Telescope on land sacred to Native Hawaiians moves forward

A long-running effort to build one of the world’s largest telescopes on a mountain sacred to Native Hawaiians is moving forward after a key approval Thursday, reopening divisions over a project that promises revolutionary views into the heavens but has drawn impassioned protests over the impact to a spiritual place.

Hawaii’s land board granted a construction permit for the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope atop the state’s tallest mountain, called Mauna Kea, but opponents likely would appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. Protesters willing to be arrested were successful in blocking construction in the past.

“For the Hawaiian people, I have a message: This is our time to rise as a people,” said Kahookahi Kanuha, a protest leader. “This is our time to take back all of the things that we know are ours. All the things that were illegally taken from us.”

Telescope officials don’t have any immediate construction plans and will consider its next steps, said Scott Ishikawa, a project spokesman. Officials previously have said they want to resume building in 2018.

“In moving forward, we will listen respectfully to the community in order to realize the shared vision of Mauna Kea as a world center for Hawaiian culture, education and science,” TMT International Observatory Board Chairman Henry Yang said in a statement.

Richard Ha, a Native Hawaiian farmer who supports the project, urged opponents to avoid confrontation.

“The possibility of getting the best telescope in the world … I don’t feel is the right battle to fight,” he said. “It will hurt our own people.”

While opponents say constructing the telescope will desecrate Mauna Kea, supporters tout the instrument’s ability to provide long-term educational and economic opportunities.

“This was one of the most difficult decisions this board has ever made,” state Board of Land and Natural Resources Chairwoman Suzanne Case said in a statement about the 5-2 decision.

Plans for the project date to 2009,…

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