Hawaii Defends Closure of Mauna Kea Summit

     HONOLULU (CN) – Restrooms covered in feces, threats such as “Kill the haoles, kill the tourists” led the University of Hawaii and astronomical observatory managers to close the road to Mauna Kea summit, officials said Thursday.
     A native religious group sued the governor and observatory managers on Monday, claiming closure of the access road to the summit violated their religious freedom.
     The University of Hawaii coordinates research at the 13,796-foot-altitude observatory, where a $1.4 billion 30-meter telescopes is under construction.
     The Kahuna of the Temple of Lono sued the governor and others in state court on July 6, seeking a restraining order to let his group worship at the summit. The road was closed down after protesters began camping out overnight and built makeshift shrines in the road, interfering with construction workers’ access to the work site.
     On Thursday, the university said that “safety, trespassing and interference with official function; resource management: threats to natural, histoical and cultural resources and social impacts: harassing/hostile/intimidating comments or gestures” caused it to close the access road on June 24.
     Logs at a ranger and visitor information station showed that officials had been watching the protests since they began in March.
     The university noted that many protesters were well behaved, but that “(t)he protesters’ civil disobedience has occasionally ruptured into harassing and intimidating comments and gestures.”
     A July 2 entry, for example, describes a protester who was “arrogant and disrespectful” calling the ranger a “fucking haole” after being told about the road closure.
     Haole is Hawaiian for someone who is not from the islands.
     “Protester disagrees with various aspects of the escort agreement, including the designated time of 13:00, maximum number of ten participants and two vehicles,” a July 1 entry states.
     The university says its schedule and rules are reasonable steps for “protecting resources, and looking out for the health and safety of those visiting Mauna Kea.”
     The proposed rules allow protests from 5 a.m. until 8 p.m., but not at night, which is astronomers’ working day.
     Frank Kamealoha Anuumealani Nobriga, who sued the state in his capacity as Kahuna, said his group wants the same, unlimited access that astronomers get.
     “What I see is a coordinated plan from the Governor’s Office to drive the protectors off the mountain and prevent a recurrence of the blockade or other obstruction action when the TMT [thirty-meter telescope] workers try to trespass onto kingdom land and desecrate the sacred site,” the kahuna’s attorney Lanny Alan Sinkin said.
     Native Hawaiians consider Mauna Kea sacred and some consider construction of the telescope a desecration.
     In a status conference Thursday on the kahuna’s lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Derrick Kehala Watson called the request for a temporary restraining order premature and suggested that Nobriga “either withdraw the TRO action and go straight to the preliminary injunction.” If he continues to seek the restraining order, Watson said, he would “order additional briefing to get a more complete record” before ruling.
     Sinkin said he was “disappointed that the evidence of what to me are obviously unconstitutional restrictions on religious practice were not sufficient for the judge to enter the TRO now.”
     Sinkin said he and his clients will assess their options.
     The next status conference is scheduled for October.
     The defendant Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resource says it is “authorized to promulgate rules to manage and regulate all lands which may be set apart as game management areas, public hunting areas, and wildlife sanctuaries.”
     The state Land Board was to hold a public hearing Friday to consider the proposed rules that would restrict access to the mountain.
     Land within 1 mile of the Mauna Kea Observatory Access Road are considered restricted area under the proposal.

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