Protesters halt Hawaii telescope groundbreaking

Protesters halt Hawaii telescope groundbreaking


Associated PressOctober 7, 2014 Updated 55 minutes ago


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HONOLULU — Protesters disrupted a planned groundbreaking and Hawaiian blessing ceremony Tuesday for the construction of one of the world’s largest telescopes near the summit of the Big Island’s Mauna Kea.

The groundbreaking for the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope was being shown via live webcast because of limited access to the construction site in an area at 14,000 feet elevation with arctic-like conditions.

It was more than an hour after the event was scheduled to begin when the webcast host, astronomer Robert Hurt, said the caravan of buses carrying attendees up the mountain “hit a snag” and would be delayed. He later said the delay was due to a group of people blocking access to the site.

The webcast later showed protesters yelling amid attempts to start the blessing. “We do hope we’ll be able to find a common ground and proceed with this in the future,” Hurt said before the webcast shutdown. It wasn’t clear when or if the event would proceed.

Some people oppose building the telescope in a place held sacred by Native Hawaiians. Kealoha Pisciotta said Monday her group, Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, planned to protest nonviolently by holding prayer ceremonies on the road at the bottom of the mountain. She said there were no plans to be disruptive or block people from attending the event. “We don’t want to bother the TMT people,” she said. “That’s why we want to do ceremony and ask for the healing — for both us and them, the TMT people.”

She and other members of her group couldn’t immediately be reached Tuesday.

The groundbreaking was to culminate years of permit applications and approvals from the University of Hawaii and the state land board. The university leases land from the state where the telescope will be built. The Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the sublease in June and then later denied requests to contest the approval.

Opponents raised questions about whether land appraisals were done appropriately and whether Native Hawaiians were properly consulted.

The project was initiated by the University of California, California Institute of Technology and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy. Universities and institutions in China, India and Japan later signed on as partners.

Dignitaries from around the world traveled to Mauna Kea for Tuesday’s events, which Hurt described as marking “a new era in astronomy.”

The telescope should help scientists see some 13 billion light years away for a glimpse into the early years of the universe. Mauna Kea is the ideal location for observing the most distant and difficult to understand mysteries of the universe, astronomers said.

Its primary mirror promises to be 100 feet, or 30 meters, in diameter, made up of 492 smaller mirrors.

Pisciotta and Hurt both noted that the groundbreaking event was to happen on the night of a “blood moon” eclipse.

The webcast included pre-recorded segments from Star Trek actor George Takei. Pisciotta said her group bombarded his Facebook page with messages asking him to reconsider his involvement with the project.

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