Protesters await convoy of parts for solar telescope atop Haleakala

PUKALANI – With materials for the controversial solar telescope on Haleakala still hours away, more than 80 protesters prepared to confront the delivery trucks on a grassy triangle outside King Kekaulike High School on Tuesday evening.

Leaders encouraged nonviolence in what was expected to be a night of high tensions.

“Of course we are expecting them to show up in riot gear with mace and guns, but it is important for us to all maintain that kapu aloha,” said Pukalani resident Tiare Lawrence, who was arrested while protesting the telescope in 2015. “Share mele, share oli, stay kapu aloha the whole time. Don’t let it get to you.”

“When in doubt, chill out,” added Kaleikoa Kaeo, one of the leaders of the protest who also was arrested in the 2015 protests. “If you get angry, walk away.”

The protest, organized by Kako’o Haleakala, aimed to catch the slow-moving convoy carrying materials for the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope to the summit. Crater Road and Haleakala National Park’s summit road were closed to traffic from 10 p.m Tuesday until 2 p.m. today.

Project director Thomas Rimmele said via email Tuesday that the load included “a big optical assembly to be mounted in the telescope structure.”

Rimmele expected the materials to reach their destination.

“We respect people’s right to peacefully protest but anticipate that we will be able to transport the materials on public roads up to the summit,” he said.

In 2015, the delivery of materials for the same solar telescope drew hundreds of protesters who linked arms in PVC pipes and laid down on the road to block the trucks. More than 25 were arrested in two separate demonstrations.

While they waited for the delivery to arrive Tuesday evening, protesters donned reflective vests and blinkers, and waved signs saying “Respect the culture” and “aloha aina.”

“I’m a kumu, and I feel that it’s important for me to be here tonight to stand up for our mauna, to stand up for our people and our aina, to show my students and our future generations that it’s important to us and it’s important to them,” Kula resident Kiani Yasak said.

Wahiawa resident Iwiulaokalani Keohokapu flew in from Oahu on Tuesday to support the cause.

“It is our kuleana as a Hawaiian to protect our sacred places,” he said. “It’s in our DNA to not allow the desecration of these places. <\q>.<\q>.<\q>. I doing this for my keikis. Watching me stand is going to allow them to stand as well.”

Rimmele said there are no other wide loads scheduled for this year. The telescope is two years away from operating and would be the largest ground-based solar telescope in the world.

“The installation of major systems inside the telescope building is progressing on schedule,” Rimmele said. “The installation of the rotating instrument platform and the telescope mount are nearly completed.”

For Kahele Dukelow, one of the protest leaders, the battle isn’t finished when the telescope is built.

The protests are “to remind them that even though they’re doing it and they’re building it and they’re almost done building it, we’re not forgetting, and we’re never going to let them forget that what they are doing is desecration,” Dukelow said. “And we are going to keep them to their agreement to dismantle the telescope in 50 years, if not sooner.”

Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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