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TMT construction on hold until after the new year, official says

  • JAMM AQUINO / JULY 23, 2019
                                People gathered to watch a kahiko performance at noon during the ninth day of protests against the TMT telescope at the base of Mauna Kea on Hawaii Island.

    JAMM AQUINO / JULY 23, 2019

    People gathered to watch a kahiko performance at noon during the ninth day of protests against the TMT telescope at the base of Mauna Kea on Hawaii Island.

One year after protesters stopped the Thirty Meter Telescope for a second time, a top official with the TMT organization said today that the project’s commitment to Hawaii remains as strong as ever but that construction will be delayed at least through the winter and maybe longer.

Gordon Squires, TMT vice president of external relations, said the coronavirus pandemic is helping to complicate the logistics of constructing the $2.4 billion cutting-edge telescope.

In optimal times, it takes a minimum of three months to gear up for the start of construction, he said. But these are not optimal times, and bringing in equipment and people from the mainland presents challenges that could double the preparation time, he said.

Squires said in all likelihood construction couldn’t begin until after winter at the earliest but that depends on the pandemic and other factors.

Those other factors include the largely Native Hawaiian opposition and how any demonstrations might be handled by government officials. There may be a new mayor of Hawaii island by the new year.

The kia’i or “protectors” of the mountain have vowed to block any attempt to restart construction.

The latest attempt to start construction was stopped starting July 15 of last year when hundreds, and later thousands, of mostly Hawaiian protesters, many of whom believe the mountain is sacred, blocked Mauna Kea Access Road.

Although authorities arrested 39 protesters, many others stood their ground, and the project has remained stalled under increasing opposition.

By late March, however, the protest camp was dismantled by the kia’i in response to health concerns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Construction was blocked for the first time in 2015, when protesters blocked work vehicles from traveling up the access road and the state Supreme Court later invalidated the project’s work permit.

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