HONOLULU (AP) — Construction on a giant telescope is set to start again next week after lengthy court battles and passionate protests from those who say building it on Hawaii’s tallest mountain will desecrate land sacred to some Native Hawaiians.
State officials announced Wednesday that the road to the top of Mauna Kea on the Big Island will be closed starting Monday as equipment is delivered.
Scientists value the mountain for its summit above the clouds that provides a clear view of the sky with very little air and light pollution. Astronomers say the Thirty Meter Telescope project, which got final legal approval to move forward last month, will allow them to reach back 13 billion years to answer fundamental questions about the universe.
Opponents say the $1.4 billion telescope will desecrate sacred land.
Gov. David Ige said unarmed National Guard units will be used to transport personnel and supplies and enforce some road closures, but added that they will not be used in a law enforcement capacity during planned protests.
“We just are asking people to be safe. ... We certainly would ask that they be respectful of those who have to work on this project,” Ige said. “We certainly are being respectful of those who choose to voice their disagreement with the project.”
Four protesters held signs in the reception area of the governor’s office after officials announced construction plans.
Protester Rhonda Vincent said closing the road to the mountain is like blocking access to a church: “If we can’t access our own gods, our own spirituality, isn’t that wrong?” she said.
Supporters say the cutting-edge telescope will bring opportunities to Hawaii.
“We aim to build the TMT for the benefit of all mankind and to understand the universe in which we all live,” said Henry Yang, chairman of the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory board of governors.
Plans for the project date to 2009. It won a series of approvals from Hawaii, including a permit to build on conservation land in 2011. Protests disrupted a groundbreaking and Hawaiian blessing ceremony at the site in 2014. After that, the demonstrations intensified.
The state Supreme Court upheld the project’s construction permit last year.