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Hawaii land board votes to limit access to Mauna Kea amid protests over giant telescope

07/11/2015 05:24 EDT | Updated 07/11/2016 05:59 EDT
HONOLULU, Hawaii - Hawaii officials voted to impose an emergency rule to restrict access to Mauna Kea after protesters blocked construction of a giant telescope.

The Board of Land and Natural Resources voted 5-2 Friday night on the 120-day rule, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports (http://bit.ly/1LXtiYJ ). The rule restricts being within a mile of the mountain's access road during certain nighttime hours, unless in a moving vehicle, and prohibits camping gear.

It would allow construction to resume on the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope, the subject of months of protests. Many Native Hawaiians consider the mountain sacred.

Camping was already prohibited on the mountain.

"We need the tools to keep order on the mountain," said board member Chris Yuen. "It's sad that it has come to this point."

Construction had stalled as protesters maintained an around-the-clock presence on the mountain.

More than 100 people testified during the eight-hour meeting. The board went into executive session around 9 p.m. and came out for deliberations after 10 p.m.

Protest leaders say they won't stop keeping constant vigil.

Bad behaviour by some protesters — ranging from putting boulders in the road to threats and harassment — has created unsafe conditions that make the emergency rule necessary, said state Attorney General Doug Chin.

The University of Hawaii, which is responsible for stewardship of Mauna Kea, released logs kept by rangers and staff at the mountain's visitor centre since late March, when protesters started staying on the mountain overnight.

Incidents recorded include a bomb threat made on Facebook, protesters making a throat-slashing gesture at workers of an existing telescope and protesters taking souvenirs from the gift shop.

Kahookahi Kanuha, a protest leader, denied the allegations of bad behaviour.

State officials had argued that the volume of protesters — hundreds of them at times — is damaging to natural resources and a strain on facilities.

Some of those who testified said the rules would infringe on Native Hawaiians' right to access the mountain for cultural and religious practices.

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