Hawaii governor says telescope-construction timeout extended

AP News
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Posted: Apr 11, 2015 11:01 PM
Hawaii governor says telescope-construction timeout extended

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii Gov. David Ige said Saturday that a nonprofit company planning to build one of the world's largest telescopes atop a mountain many Native Hawaiians consider sacred will maintain a moratorium on construction for another week.

Ige initially announced what he called a timeout on construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope at Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the Big Island, on Tuesday after law enforcement arrested more than 30 protesters opposing the project.

As the weekend arrived, he said the company told him it will further postpone construction until April 20.

"I thank TMT for its willingness to be respectful and sensitive to all of Hawaii — its special people, its sense of place and its unique host culture," the governor said in a statement.

Kealoha Pisciotta, the president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou and a telescope opponent, welcomed the opportunity for all sides to reflect.

"We're still not standing down. We appreciate the time to do research and consider everything — and that's a good thing," Pisciotta said.

"It's also a good thing that the aina is protected," she said, using the Hawaiian word for land. "Any time that happens is a good thing, and we welcome that."

Gary Sanders, the Thirty Meter Telescope's project manager, said his organization is continuing to consult with community leaders and appreciates their input. "We appreciate the support of the governor and our community advocates for our decision to hold construction until at least April 20," Sanders said in a statement.

Ige announced the extension in Hilo, near Mauna Kea. He flew there on Saturday to attend the Merrie Monarch Festival, the state's biggest hula competition, said Jodi Leong, a spokeswoman.

The Thirty Meter Telescope is a California nonprofit formed by the University of California and the California Institute of Technology. Institutions in Canada, China, India and Japan signed on as partners and would receive a share of observing time. It selected Mauna Kea as the site for the observatory over Chile's Cerro Armazones mountain in 2009.

The Thirty Meter Telescope has received state construction permits and a sublease for the land from the University of Hawaii, which manages the area at the top of the mountain.

Native Hawaiians have filed lawsuits against the project. One is pending before the state's Intermediate Court of Appeals.

Opponents recently also started demonstrating on the mountain. Last week, state and county police arrested 20 people for blocking the road to prevent construction vehicles from reaching the summit. Another 11 protesters were arrested for refusing to leave the construction site at the summit.

Scientists say Mauna Kea's summit above most clouds offers some of the world's best conditions for viewing the skies. But some Native Hawaiians believe their creation story begins atop the mountain. It's also a burial site for ancestors and a home to deities.