HONOLULU – After years of protests and legal battles, officials have announced that a massive telescope which will allow scientists to peer into the most distant reaches of our early universe will be built on a Hawaiian volcano that some consider sacred.
The state announced a “notice to proceed” for the Thirty Meter Telescope project at a news conference Thursday.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige said it was the final legal step in a long, often contentious, process, and that construction is expected to begin sometime this summer.
“We will proceed in a way that respects the people, place and culture that make Hawaii unique,” Ige said. “We are all stewards of Mauna Kea. The state has an obligation to respect and honor the unique cultural and natural resources on this special mountain.”
Scientists say the summit is one of the best places on Earth for astronomy. The telescope would be three times as wide as the largest existing visible-light telescope in the world, with nine times more area.
Several telescopes and observatories are already on the summit.
Iran shoots down US drone: What Iran and the United States are saying
But opponents say the telescope will desecrate sacred land atop Mauna Kea, the state’s highest peak and a place of religious importance to Native Hawaiians.
State and county officials arrived at the summit early Thursday morning to remove Native Hawaiian structures that had been built on land where the telescope will be constructed.
Kealoha Pisciotta, a Native Hawaiian activist who has led some of the protest efforts, said officials were only allowing astronomers through and blocking the road to the summit for everyone else, including Hawaiians who asked to go pray. The Department of Land and Natural resources said one person was arrested by county police for obstruction.
Native Hawaiians have used the structures for years, Pisciotta said, and she considers the removal of the structures to be desecration and discriminatory.
“What’s the argument for taking them down? It’s completely discriminatory. It’s hostile to the Native Hawaiian people,” she said. “These are places of worship and the places where we lay our offering and our prayer.”
She said their rights to religious freedom are being violated.
“If someone went into a church and took down the crucifix or you know the cross, how would that be treated?” Pisciotta asked.
Pisciotta said an overnight solstice ceremony was planned on the mountain and worried that they would be denied access. The group was also planning to honor an elder who recently died.
“They know that we go up during solstice and equinox,” said Pisciotta. “We were preparing to head up tonight for the solstice and to honor him.”