Construction of Thirty Meter Telescope probably won’t resume until 2021

It's one year since construction was supposed to begin on Mauna Kea. It didn't. And it won't for the rest of the year.
Updated: Jul. 15, 2020 at 12:43 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea will not begin this year, a project official said Wednesday.

Gordon Squires, vice president of external affairs for the TMT International Observatory, announced on Hawaii News Now Sunrise that construction will probably not happen until sometime after spring or summer of 2021.

“With the pandemic and other factors that have come in, winter seems like a long ways away, but it’s not that far away and for us to resume construction activities on site, winter on Mauna Kea just isn’t feasible,” Squires said.

Despite this, Squires said, “We’re absolutely committed to finding a way forward in Hawaii.”

His announcement comes exactly one year after construction was slated to begin — on July 15, 2019. The project was later halted following months of protests from those who saw the giant telescope atop Mauna Kea as desecration of a sacred mountain.

“We’re still working, we work every day to make sure this project doesn’t move forward, so this week, we’re celebrating and commemorating one year that we’ve been able to stop the project from moving up the mountain,” said Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, one of the leaders in the TMT protest.

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Here’s a look back at the events that transpired in the year since construction was set to begin:

The showdown started early that morning, before sunrise, when several TMT opponents chained themselves to a cattle guard to stop state vehicles from reaching Mauna Kea Access Road. They stayed there for nearly 12 hours.

Law enforcement let the protesters go without making arrests.

One day later, TMT opponents set up a kupuna line. The Hawaiian elders told everyone they had no plans to move off Mauna Kea Access Road.

On July 17th, after those warnings from officers, 38 protesters — mostly kupuna — were arrested.

Within the next week, Hawaii’s leaders visited Mauna Kea: Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim, then Lt. Gov. Josh Green, followed by Gov. David Ige.

As the movement gained national attention, celebrities even started coming to the mountain in support of the protesters.

Jason Momoa, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jack Johnson, Ilima Lei MacFarlane and others all drove up to Mauna Kea to show their support for the protests.

TMT announced on Wednesday that there will be no construction on Mauna Kea this year, and work on the telescope may not start until next summer.

The camp on the mountain grew, and at that point hundreds and sometimes thousands of people were on Mauna Kea at one time.

As the weeks went on and costs piled up, law enforcement agencies that were brought in from Oahu and Maui were sent back home with no end of the conflict in sight.

In August 2019, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim released his plan for a possible resolution on the mountain.

It involved pledges from Gov. Ige, the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, the University of Hawaii and other stakeholders, but it also involved building the telescope.

As the weather got colder, the numbers on Mauna Kea thinned out. Then in December, the state removed its officers from Mauna Kea after five months. Protesters were told to leave as well. They were given assurances from Mayor Kim that no equipment would be brought up the mountain if TMT opponents left. And just days later, a truce was reached.

The offer from the mayor was if protesters would move to the side of the road, he would guarantee that the state and county agencies and law enforcement would stand down for a minimum of two months.

Mauna Kea Access Road was reopened on December 28 and guests were allowed back into the visitor center.

The agreement was set to expire in February. But it was extended again. And in March, the last of the protesters left the mountain.

The protectors, as they call themselves, say they’ll be back if anything changes.

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