TMT Construction Scheduled To Start Up Next Week

Jul 10, 2019

Updated: July 10, 4:27 p.m.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige and the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory announced Wednesday that construction of the telescope on Mauna Kea on Hawaii Island will begin next week.

State transportation officials said Mauna Kea Access Road will be closed at 7:00 A.M. on Monday, and there will be other road closures to accommodate large equipment. Hunting in some parts of the Mauna Kea forest reserve will be temporarily closed as well.

"Both measures are being taken to ensure the safety and security of the public and personnel involved in moving equipment for the TMT project up the Mauna Kea Access Road," according to a news release from the state and TMT.

The announcement of a construction date follows a decade of controversy over the building of the observatory, which supporters say will advance scientific knowledge. However, the project is opposed by native Hawaiian activists who revere the sacredness of Mauna Kea. 

Governor David Ige announces the start date of TMT construction.
Credit Amy Nakamura / HPR

Protests in 2014 temporarily stopped work on the observatory and subsequent legal challenges put the project on hold. 

In December 2015, the state Supreme Court ruled the project's permits were invalid because they were issued before a required contested case hearing. The state Board of Land and Natural Resources then approved a revised permit in September 2017, which the Supreme Court ruled in October 2018 was valid. The decision cleared the way for construction.

Last month, Ige announced that the project received a notice to proceed, and that construction could start on the summit, although a date was not made public at that time.

"As the construction begins, I continue to be committed to engaging with people holding all perspectives on this issue and to making meaningful changes that further contribute to the co-existence of culture and science on Mauna Kea," Ige said in Wednesday's statement.

Hawaii Attorney General Clare Connors says that if protestors do not comply with law enforcement, they could be subjected to arrest. Hawaii County Police and other public safety organizations will be stationed on the mountain to handle security. A few members of the National Guard will also be on the mountain to facilitate transportation of supplies and oversee road closures. 

"As we see how things play out, we'll be looking towards whatever additional resources may be needed," said Connors. 

Connors also emphasized that besides these roads, the rest of the mountain will remain open. At the moment, there is no designated area for protesters. 

Kauwila Sheldon was one of the few protesters of the TMT project who visited the Governor's Office today. Many protesters of the telescope's construction on Mauna Kea say that they will not be barred from entering their sacred land.
Credit Amy Nakamura / HPR

Opponents of the project plan a sign-waving demontration Friday at 3:30 p.m. in Waimea on Hawaii Island and a vigil at the same time at the downtown Hilo Post Office.

The observatory is being developed by a consortium of universities, including the University of California, California Institute of Technology, and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy, and with international partners from Japan, China and India. 

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.