Hawaiians Block $1.4B Telescope Project on Sacred Land

At least temporarily; Board says it will break ground 'when issue is resolved'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 25, 2015 9:15 AM CDT
Hawaiians Block $1.4B Telescope Project on Sacred Land
The proposed Thirty Meter Telescope, to be built atop Mauna Kea, a large dormant volcano in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii.   (AP Photo/TMT Observatory Corporation, File)

(Newser) – Hundreds of protesters on a Hawaii mountain road erupted in cheers yesterday after construction crews turned around and retreated from the site for what would be one of the world's largest telescopes. The $1.4 billion project has drawn intense opposition from Native Hawaiians who say the 18-story observatory on the Big Island's Mauna Kea would desecrate land they consider sacred. Work on the Thirty Meter Telescope has been stalled for months after a large group blocked access to the mountaintop in April, a demonstration that led to 31 arrests. Protesters say they were ready to adopt similar tactics and go to jail if necessary to make their point yesterday. Hawaii County police arrested one man, while state police arrested 11 others, officials say.

Several hundred gathered more than 9,000 feet up Mauna Kea, home to 13 other large telescopes, blocking workers who intended to install fencing around the construction site. The protesters blocked the road, then let workers pass, and different groups repeated the pattern several times at higher points on the mountain. Gov. David Ige's chief of staff says "large boulders were found in the roadway leading to the summit" and that crews will work to clear the roadway today. "For the safety of our team, we made the decision to bring them off the mountain and we are planning to resume when the issue is resolved," the chair of the TMT International Observatory Board says. "We were happy that they are not going to be desecrating our (land) today," says a protester. "But tomorrow is another story." (Read more telescope stories.)

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