Construction of the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope will start near the summit of Mauna Kea next week, Gov. David Ige and state officials announced this afternoon.
At a news conference in Ige’s office at the State Capitol, officials announced that the road to the top of the Hawaii island mountain will be closed Monday as a convoy of grading equipment is delivered to the construction site.
“We have followed a 10-year process to get this point, and the day for construction to begin has arrived,” Ige said.
Officials announced there could be lane and other road closures associated with the movement of of large equipment on Mauna Kea Access Road, as well as the closure of hunting units A, K and G in the Mauna Kea Forest Reserve.
Ige said public safety is his top priority, and state Attorney General Clare Connors told the media that state and county law enforcement are ready to deal with potential obstacles facing the work crews.
After the news conference, a quartet of Native Hawaiian activists were in the governor’s lobby carrying signs of protest.
“They cannot block access for those of us that go up there. We have that right,” said Healani Sonoda-Pale of Ka Lahui Hawai‘i Political Action Committee. “Mauna Kea is our temple. If we want to go up to the mauna to pray, to be with our akua, we have that right to access.”
Earlier, Henry Yang, chairman of the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory Board of Governors, described the project as historic.
“We have learned much over the last 10-plus years on the unique importance of Mauna Kea to all, and we remain committed to being good stewards on the mountain and inclusive of the Hawaiian community,” he said.
Also speaking at the news conference were Ed Sniffen, deputy director of the state Department of Transportation, and Suzanne Case, chairwoman of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.
The state last month issued a formal notice to proceed with constructing the next-generation telescope expected to cost more than $1.4 billion.
Opponents say the telescope will desecrate sacred land. Supporters say it will bring educational and economic opportunities to the state.
Construction stopped in 2015 after protesters were arrested for blocking the work. A second attempt to restart construction a few months later ended with more arrests.
The state Supreme Court upheld the telescope’s construction permit in 2018.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.