Rule proposed to limit access to Hawaii telescope after reports of bad behavior by protesters

Associated Press

The state land board on Friday will consider an emergency rule restricting access to a mountain considered sacred by many Native Hawaiians after officials say a handful of people protesting construction of a giant telescope there made threats and harassed workers.

The University of Hawaii, which is responsible for stewardship of Mauna Kea, released logs kept by rangers and staff at the mountain's visitor center since late March. That's when protesters began staying on Mauna Kea to block construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

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Incidents recorded include a bomb threat made on Facebook, protesters making a throat-slashing gesture at telescope workers, and an unidentified woman shouting to kill "haoles" — white people in Hawaiian — and tourists. There also were reports of children running across the road, feces found smeared on bathroom walls, and protesters taking souvenirs from the gift shop.

Kahookahi Kanuha, a protest leader, denied the allegations of bad behavior. He said he hasn't witnessed any of those incidents.

"Everything has been pono," he said, using the Hawaiian word for righteous or proper. He said participants value maintaining kapu aloha, or respectful, nonviolent protest.

University spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said the troubling incidents represent a "very, very small number of the overall people who have been up there throughout the months."

"There are many examples of protesters stepping in and helping mitigate situations," he said.

On April 21, the woman who yelled "kill the haoles, kill the tourists," according to the logs, calmed down when visitor center staff asked four other protesters for help: "They offered aid willingly and apologized for the woman's behavior and language."

State officials say the rule also is necessary because the volume of protesters — hundreds of them at times — are damaging to natural resources and a strain on facilities.

When the university closed bathrooms in the visitor center, protesters trucked up portable toilets. They were removed after the state threatened to fine the porta-potty company hefty fines for unauthorized toilets.

"We're a minority of the people that access the mountain," Kanuha said. "There are much more tourists on the mountain than us."

He said the rule is a "weak and shameful" attempt to keep protesters off the mountain and allow construction to resume.

Work on the $1.4 billion telescope has been halted since April. Crews attempted to access the site last month, but they turned around after encountering boulders in the road and hundreds of protesters. Dozens of protesters were arrested during the two failed attempts to restart construction.

The board could approve the proposal, reject it or adopt an amended version.

An inability to camp on the mountain won't stop protesters from keeping constant vigil, Kanuha said: "The mountain will still be protected."

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Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa .