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Thirty Meter Telescope to resume construction this month

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This 2011 file artist rendering provided by Thirty Meter Telescope

Construction on $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big, stalled since April by protesters, is expected to begin later this month.

Henry Yang, Chair, TMT International Observatory Board of Directors, said a small crew of local workers will go to the Thirty Meter Telescope site this month to conduct site preparation activities, starting with equipment maintenance and repairs, according to a news release.

An exact date hasn’t been identified, spokesman Scott Ishikawa said.

Protest leaders recently decided that it’s no longer necessary to sleep on the mountain because they trust that officials will give them advance notice of when crews return.

Telescope officials are still assessing whether the date will be made public, Ishikawa said.

Work will be primarily maintenance on vehicle that have sat idle, he said. Meanwhile work on telescope parts has been ongoing in countries that are partners in the project.

The announcement comes a day after the nonprofit company building the telescope released results from a public opinion poll, which showed 75 percent of Hawaii residents agreeing that the project followed a lengthy approval process and that work should proceed.

"The poll was not the catalyst for the decision, but it did show there was support for the project," Ishikawa said.

An attempt on April 2 to start TMT site preparation led to the arrests of 31 protesters, who tried to prevent work vehicles from reaching the construction site near the summit on Mauna Kea’s northern plateau. 

Another attempt to start construction on June 24 resulted in 11 arrests of protesters. A convoy of construction workers turned around after protesters blocked the road with rocks.

The $1.4 billion telescope has been on hold as TMT and state officials, including Gov. David Ige, unsuccessfully searched for a compromise that would allow the project to go forward without resistance.

Opponents say the project that will be 18 stories high will desecrate land that Native Hawaiians believe to be the home of deities. 

The Supreme Court is also considering a challenge to the project’s land use permit. If the court were to reject the permit on the grounds that TMT violated the due process of opponents, the project would have to seek approval from the state’s Board of Land and Natural Resources again.

"We are deeply committed to respectful stewardship of the mountain, and to the vision that integrates science and culture in Hawaii and enriches the educational opportunities and local economy," said Henry Yang, chairman of the TMT International Observatory Board of Governors, in a news release. "We will continue to follow the state’s laws, procedures and processes, as we have done for more than eight years, while respectfully awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision."


The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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