Some telescope protesters' charges to be tossed

Some telescope protesters' charges to be tossed

Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii County's top prosecutor said Friday he will dismiss charges against about 10 of the 31 protesters who were arrested while blocking construction of a giant telescope on a mountain held sacred by Native Hawaiians.

Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth told The Associated Press he will drop the cases against those charged with trespassing, though his office might decide to re-file them later.

The remaining people arrested last month were charged with obstruction of government operations.

Opposition has been mounting against the Thirty Meter Telescope planned near the summit of Mauna Kea on Hawaii's Big Island. The $1.4 billion project would be one of the world's largest telescopes.

Reasons for opposing it range from protecting sacred land from desecration to curbing development.

Roth declined to say why he's moving to drop some of the charges but noted they warrant further investigation.

"We don't charges cases unless we can prove them beyond a reasonable doubt," he said.

He said his office will continue to review police reports and video taken at the site.

Kealoha Pisciotta, one of the Big Island leaders behind the effort to stop the telescope, said she's happy to hear some of the cases will be dismissed. "Fundamentally and morally, how can it be trespassing in our house of worship and prayer?" she said.

Construction on the project has been halted since last month amid protests and arrests of opponents blocking crews from accessing the site.

Gov. David Ige previously said it's up to the nonprofit company behind the telescope to determine when work will start again. "And we will support and enforce their right to do so," he has said.

Telescope officials haven't said when construction will resume, and a spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to messages seeking comment Friday.

Pisciotta said protesters - who call themselves protectors- will continue to remain on the mountain, despite the possibility of more arrests.

Earlier this week, Ige promised major changes in stewardship of Mauna Kea, listing 10 actions he would like to see from the University of Hawaii, which leases the land. They include beginning to decommission some of the 13 telescopes already on the mountain.

The governor also urged the university to significantly limit non-cultural access to Mauna Kea, and to legally commit that this is the last area of the mountain where a telescope will be considered.

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