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Removing Toilets & Creating Rules: Hawaiian Officials Stifling Mauna Kea Protectors

Mauna Kea protectors stopped the Department of Land and Natural Resources from beginning construction of the TMT—the Department is now striking back.

The Protectors of Mauna Kea, the tallest and most sacred mountain in Hawaii, suffered a blow July 10 when the Hawaii State Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) ruled 5-2 to institute emergency rules to block the mountain’s protectors from occupying the road.

The emergency rules came about because of what one protector called a “knee jerk reaction” by the BLNR to a June 24 gathering of 750 protectors, who blocked construction of a $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea’s summit. The BLNR called the July 10 meeting to vote on the emergency rules.

RELATED: Sacred Mountain Blockade: Protectors Halt Construction on Mauna Kea

The BLNR meeting involved eight hours of testimony from some 120 passionate speakers, who were unable to sway the BLNR from their decision to create a restricted area, which includes land within one mile of the mountain’s access road between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., unless in a moving vehicle. Further, no backpacks, blankets or camping gear will be permitted in the restricted area, which is 16,000 acres according to a 10-page statement issued by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

The emergency meeting was not the only effort the state took to deter the protectors from staying on the mountain. After the June 24 blockade, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) closed the Visitors Center leaving the protectors and all visitors to Mauna Kea without water or bathrooms. After portable toilets were installed by individuals and small businesses who support the protectors, they were removed by the DLNR. Later that same day, July 7, Hawaii’s Attorney General Doug Chin announced the emergency meeting, and told KITV News, “Honestly, where I saw things change was when rock walls and boulders appeared over a very dangerous stretch of road,” referring to actions taken by some protectors at the June 24 event.

Mehana Kihoi

Portable toilets were removed by the Department of Land and Natural Resources in retaliation for the June 24 incident when 750 protectors of the sacred mountain, Mauna Kea, held construction crews from beginning construction on the Thirty Meter Telescope.

During the BLNR meeting July 10, Chin again cited the large stones and structures built by the protectors to block construction. He also said the unlit mountain road has no sidewalks and a steep drop off. He declared the need for the new emergency rule changes was based in safety, public health, and to protect the environment from abuse.

However, a statement challenging the emergency rules and other actions taken by the BLNR was issued by the usually conservative Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Many of the speakers echoed these same concerns.

According to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA):

Over 100,000 visitors and 32,000 cars have visited Mauna Kea since 2002, and that “the daily average of less than 20 protectors on non-commercial days raises serious doubt as to any allegedly imminent peril to natural resources.”

In regards to endangering the land through the threat of trash, OHA noted the protectors extensive efforts to keep the area clean and unlittered, and providing portable toilets after the DLNR closed the Visitor’s Center.

OHA cited numerous technical errors in the announcement of the meeting and suggested these could lead to “legal liability that could drain essential DNLR resources should legal challenges be filed.”

OHA stated that emergency rule-making requires a 30-day notice and there was no evidence that “imminent peril to public health, safety, or natural resources” are threatened, which is required when holding an emergency meeting. OHA wrote: “The permanent encampments have been peaceably assembling for almost 100 days, with no injuries or illnesses, or impacts to natural resources.”

OHA stated there would be a cultural impact in denying access to the mountain during times of “traditional and customary practices that occur in the restricted area” and which may require backpacks and blankets and other survival gear.

Williamson Chang, professor of law at the University of Hawaii, said the new rules were a “thinly disguised effort to facilitate what the governor said—essentially, the Thirty Meter Telescope is going to be built. That bothers me.”

The State Board of Land and Natural Resources members continually stated that their decision to vote for the new rules was based in law. In their opinion, the Thirty Meter Telescope has a permit and therefore has the legal right to build.

The protectors countered that, in fact, the BLNR is breaking international law, because international courts have established that Hawaii was never legally admitted to the U.S. as a state. There was never a treaty, and the U.S. annexed Hawaii by a joint resolution through congress. Joint Resolutions are simply resolutions, which have no impact on another sovereign country. Native Hawaii and international courts agree that the U.S. overthrew the Hawaiian government in 1893 and the U.S. is guilty of war crimes in Hawaii.

The BLNR’s new rules will affect hunters and traditional culture practitioners as well as the protectors. Mauna Kea has historical significance as a place of prayer, and some speakers argued that enacting rules blocking them from ceremony are illegal. Thomas Oi, a member of BLNR, suggested that many more than simply the protectors would suffer from the new emergency rules.

Kaho’okahi Kanuha, a leader in the movement to block the construction of the telescope said during his testimony that as he was being arrested on June 24, it occurred to him that it is the job of the DLNR to protect the mountain, yet he was arrested for doing that.

Kaho'okahi Kanuha/Facebook

Kaho'okahi Kanuhaa, a leader in the movement to protect Mauna Kea, spoke at the Hawaii State Board of Land and Natural Resources on July 10.

Speaker Number 89, Havena Wright, said, “According to your mission statement, we are on the same side. I appreciate that you have taken an oath and want to follow law and order. But I also want to say that in history, not everything that is legal is right.”