MAUNA KEA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - What was meant to be a moment of pride for the University of Hawaii and Hawaii astronomy, turned into a spectacle revealing the deep animosity among those who consider Mauna Kea a sacred mountain.
Despite years of public hearings, critics of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) feel they haven't been heard and they are desperate to stop the project.
Before the scientists and dignitaries even reached the groundbreaking, they ran into protesters blocking the road to the summit. The buses eventually got by and the event began an hour late. But then the protesters crashed the ceremony.
"Please hear us! Hear us!" cried one of them.
"Please listen. We're trying to say something to you. This mountain is sacred to us. She protects us…it hurts us deeply...this can't happen," the protester said.
The objections to the $1.4 billion project have brought together environmentalists, who worry about rare species, and Native Hawaiians, who consider Mauna Kea their spiritual home.
"Imagine what it would be like if 18 stories of concrete is built on top a mountain that can still shake this earth," said Pua Case in a YouTube video.
Many countries including China, Japan, India, and Canada are invested in the project which is being led by UH. After 6 years of planning, the state signed off on the land lease this summer. The TMT will have a mirror about 100 feet in diameter making it from 10 to 100 times more powerful than any other telescope.
"It's a natural progression towards navigating us towards our future, to connect and reconnect with our sisters and brothers around the world," said Kalei Akaka, Democratic candidate for State House District 6, Hawaii Island.
But at the groundbreaking, the tension was too much. The live webcast, presumably being watched by astronomers around the world, had barely begun when the host cut it off.
"Obviously there are a number of people who have showed up who have contrasting opinions about the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. We'll have to conclude this broadcast at this point and we do hope that we would be able to find a common ground and proceed with this in the future," he said.
It will take seven years before the telescope is fully operational.