HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - With a years-long legal battle in the rear view mirror, construction of the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea will begin Monday, authorities announced in a press conference Wednesday.
Although the mountain itself will stay open, Mauna Kea Access Road will be closed down to the intersection with Daniel K. Inouye Highway starting Monday at 7 a.m. Officials estimate that it will only be closed for a few days to allow for the transportation of large equipment, the State Department of Transportation said. Other lane and road closures could also occur.
Hunting units A, K and G in the Mauna Kea Forest Reserve area have also been temporarily put on hold beginning Monday.
“We have followed a 10-year process to get to this point, and the day for construction to begin has arrived,” Governor David Ige said. “At this time, our number one priority is everyone’s safety.”
The National Guard will be on site to provide transportation to law enforcement and to bring supplies to help facilitate road closures.
Officials also said that the so-called “sound cannon," a military device that produces long-range voice and alert tone broadcasts, will be used to publicly address a large group if communication is needed.
“When the road is closed, we’re going to ask everyone to follow the rules,” said Clare Connors, Hawaii’s Attorney General. “That’s the best guidance we can give everyone on the mountain, that we hope you’re following the rules, and if you’re asked by law enforcement to do something, that you would comply.”
Regarding a lawsuit filed Tuesday, Connors said the claims will not affect the beginning of construction. The lawsuit stated that the University of Hawaii and Thirty Meter Telescope officials failed to ensure that the project had “posted a security bond in the amount of the full cost of the project as the Mauna Kea Plan Of 1977 requires."
Since the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the 18-story telescope in October 2018, state departments and other law enforcement agencies have begun gearing up for what’s sure to be a heated construction period.
In recent weeks, law enforcement officials have headed up the mountain to begin clearing the way for construction, including the dismantling of several prayer altars that were built by Native Hawaiian activists.
Protesters have taken to the area to express their opposition to what they consider to be desecration of a sacred Native Hawaiian space, with some demonstrators even risking arrest. Opponents have expressed concern over potential uses of excessive force in future demonstrations.
The $1.4 billion project was first announced nearly a decade ago as part of a new class of very large telescopes designed to look farther into space ― and potentially millions of years back in time.
While supporters believe the project will be a great technological advancement, opponents fear it will place restrictions against the native people’s access to a revered land.