Pasadena-Based Thirty Meter Telescope Gets Go-Ahead in Hawaii, One Arrested There as Protest Structures Dismantled

Locals say Mauna Kea is sacred land and must not be built upon

Published : Friday, June 21, 2019 | 4:58 AM

Protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope planned for Hawaii's Mauna Kea have erupted in Pasadena over the years because of Caltech's involvement in the project. The activists shown above protest in April, 2017 said the mountaintop is sacred and must not be "desecrated."

Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) has issued a Notice to Proceed to the University of Hawaii for the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, according to a statement from the TMT Organization in Pasadena.

The issuance paves the way for construction to begin on the Thirty Meter Telescope project. The Notice to Proceed indicates all pre-construction conditions and mitigation measures as required in the state’s Conservation District Use Permit have been met.

“TMT is pleased and grateful that the Notice to Proceed has been issued by the Department of Land and Natural Resources to the University of Hawaii,” Henry Yang, Chair of the TMT International Observatory Board of Governors, said in response to the development. “We remain committed to being good stewards of Mauna Kea, and to honoring and respecting the culture and traditions of Hawaii. It has been a long process to get to this point. We are deeply grateful to our many friends and community supporters for their advice and for their encouragement and support of the TMT project over the years.”

In Honolulu, Hawaii Gov. David Ige said construction of the project is set to begin “sometime this summer,” although he mentioned no actual kick-off date.

“We will proceed in a way that respects the people and place and culture that make Hawaii unique,” Ige said.

On Thursday morning, authorities in Hawaii began dismantling at least four structures that activists protesting against the project have put up since 2015. A report by Hawaii News Now said at least one person has been arrested as Department of Land and Natural Resources officers arrived on Mauna Kea around 4 a.m. Thursday.

Activists on the scene told the news outlet that a group of about 30 officers, accompanied by state workers, had dismantled a structure that was built across the street from the Mauna Kea Visitor’s Center in the early days of the protest movement.

Another group also removed a structure described as a “kanaka ranger station” along the Mauna Kea Access Road on Hawaiian Home Lands, according to the report.

State Attorney General Clare Connors said there were also structures removed from the summit; the structures were dismantled “very carefully,” she said, and will be stored for pickup, the report said.

Connors told reporters the state wants to protect everyone’s rights, including those of protesters.

“There is a difference of course between lawful speech and unlawful conduct,” she said. “When construction proceeds, the individuals working on Mauna Kea are going to need safe access.”

In October 2018, after years of legal wrangling, Hawaii’s state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the TMT’s construction.

Plans for the TMT project date back to 2003 when Caltech in Pasadena teamed up with the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA) and the University of California (UC) to set up the nonprofit TMT Observatory Corporation. The TMT project was born out of the merging of three earlier large-telescope projects – the California Extremely Large Telescope, which was a partnership between Caltech and UC; the Very Large Optical Telescope, led by ACURA; and the Giant Segmented Mirror Telescope, which was a partnership between the National Optical Astronomical Observatory (NOAO) and the Gemini Observatory.

The project has been mired in controversy since then. Protests broke out in 2011 after an initial construction permit was granted by the state’s land board. In 2014, activists blocked groundbreaking attempts at Mauna Kea’s summit, and in 2015, thousands of protesters rose up across the Hawaiian islands to denounce the project.

Later in 2015, the Hawaii Supreme Court invalidated the 2011 permit, ruling that the land board’s approval process had been flawed. The project’s builders applied for a new permit, which the board granted in 2017 and which opponents later appealed against.

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