Giant telescope project blocked

The Associated Press

HONOLULU—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 billion-dollar project has drawn intense opposition from native Hawaiians who say the 18-storey 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 said 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 Department of Land and Natural Resources police arrested 11 others, officials said.
Several hundred people gathered more than 9,000 feet up Mauna Kea, blocking workers who intended to install fencing around the construction site near the summit.
The protesters blocked the road, then let workers pass, and different groups repeated the pattern several times at higher points on the mountain.
Protester Kainoa Stafford said the crews eventually turned around and headed back down.
A telescope spokeswoman, Caroline Witherspoon, confirmed construction workers had turned away.
Stafford also said he saw Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources authorities put plastic cuffs on protesters at several points up the mountain and put them into vans “pretty much anytime someone wouldn’t comply or listen to their order.”
Jodi Leong, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said she didn’t have details on the 11 arrests.
For the protesters, many of whom had been camping near the visitor centre despite 30-degree F nights, it was a victory.
“For today at least, we did really good at keeping our lines strong until arrest,” said protester Kuuipo Freitas.
Astronomers are interested in the site because its summit is nearly 14,000 feet high—well above the clouds and able to provide a clear view of the sky 300 days a year.
There’s also very little air and light pollution.
Thirteen other large telescopes occupy Mauna Kea.
Gov. David Ige has responded to the protests, saying Hawaii must do a better job of caring for the mountain but that construction crews have the right to proceed.