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Mauna Kea telescope protest site clear for 1st time since July

HONOLULU (AP) — Protesters at the Mauna Kea Access Road removed barricades for the first time since July as the demonstrators against a giant telescope project shift their focus away from the construction site.

The access road was fully reopened Saturday to all traffic except construction equipment for the Thirty Meter Telescope project, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Sunday.

Telescope opponents are planning a demonstration at the state Capitol in Honolulu when the legislative session begins Jan. 15, they said.

“The movement and clearing this road is only the beginning of where we’ve got to go on this issue here, and hopefully this is the start of that,” Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said.

An international consortium wants to build the telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s tallest peak. But some Native Hawaiians believe the project will desecrate sacred land and demonstrators blocked construction.

A large police presence maintained security at the site. Law enforcement officials arrested 39 demonstrators July 17 for obstructing the road during nonviolent protests.

The telescope builders informed Democratic Gov. David Ige’s office earlier this month that they are not prepared to move forward with construction at this time.

There will be no attempt to move equipment up the mountain to start construction in January or February, Kim said last week.

Kim also promised there would be no police effort to sweep protesters off the mountain and asked opponents to remove tents and other equipment from the access road during the next two months.

Protester tents were moved to the west side of the road with the help of county workers Friday evening, said Maurice Messina, Kim’s executive assistant.

The tents were placed 10 feet from the road and separated from traffic by barricades. The county plans to install speed bumps nearby, but the campsite will be restored to its original condition when the protest ends, Messina said.

Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, one of the protest leaders, said the pause in activity on the mountain offers telescope opponents an opportunity to engage in “a campaign to influence decision making” in Hawaii and the Mainland United States.

The stand-down is “a welcome thing for us,” she said.