HILO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hundreds of people packed a special University of Hawaii Board of Regents meeting at UH Hilo Thursday to sound off on plans to build one of the world's largest telescopes at Mauna Kea.
All but one of the 62 people who testified opposed building the Thirty Meter Telescope on conservation land at the Big Island volcano.
Only about half of the roughly 120 people who signed up were able to testify because after three and a half hours, the regents left to fly back to their home islands and some had to fly to the mainland for a conference, a UH spokesman said. UH officials said they would work to set up another hearing on Hawaii Island so those who didn't get a chance to speak could be heard.
The UH Regents did not vote or take any action on the telescope project Thursday. The special meeting was held to hear from the community after the California nonprofit building the project halted construction following arrests of more than 30 protesters at the volcano slopes.
"The truth is simple. That Hawaii has paid enough!" said one woman, as the crowd applauded loudly.
The regents, many of whom were not on the all-volunteer board when it approved the project in 2009, got an earful, punctuated by Hawaiian songs, chants, conch shells and cheers from people opposing the project.
The largest auditorium at UH Hilo was standing room only with about 300 people as they told UH regents why they oppose the telescope project on a mountain some Native Hawaiians consider to be sacred.
Telescope opponent Jasmine Cabanilla said, "Proposing to create an estimated 130 permanent jobs for a population of over 300,000 does not justify the building of a 30-meter telescope on conservation land."
Moanikeala Akaka, a former Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee who was one of those arrested at the construction site earlier this month, also spoke against the project.
"Thirteen telescopes are enough. Take down the obsolete ones and replace them if you must," Akaka said.
UH officials said the regents received 1,010 written comments opposing the telescope project and just 28 in support.
UH Astronomer Mark Chun was the only person testifying in favor of the 16-story telescope.
"Scientists around the world understand and recognize this mountain as the standard by which all other sites in the world are compared to. It is the gold standard," Chun said.
"We can choose to disengage Hawaii from the science and technology or we can choose to lead the world," said Chun, an astronomer at the UH Hilo Institute for Astronomy who has lived on Hawaii Island for 17 years.
The crowd did not interrupt him during his testimony and applauded him when he concluded.
Opponents said they are not against science, but oppose the location of the telescope.
"What kind of science, what kind of science is it that destroys the hearts and the minds of so many people?" said one woman.
Kamahana Kealoha, another telescope opponent, said, "A university that claims to be a Hawaiian place of learning cannot at the same time be the agent of erasure of Hawaiian culture."
One activist gave UH President David Lassner and the regents a rock or pohaku taken from Mauna Kea and asked them to feel its sacredness.
Another opponent led the entire group in singing the anthem of the Native Hawaiian people: Hawaii Aloha, with regents and UH officials joining them in song.
UH officials had planned to begin the 11:30 a.m. meeting with presentations from several university officials about the history of astronomy at UH and telescope operations. But UH officials scrapped that plan when attendees complained they took time off from work, school and families to testify and they wouldn't all be able to speak before the planned cutoff time of 3 p.m.
UH officials have said the TMT project is the last new site that will be developed on Mauna Kea. The university also said it plans to shut down some of the 13 observatories on the mountain.
The nonprofit formed by the University of California and the California Institute of Technology that's building the telescope with international partners has paid UH its first rent check of $300,000 to the state in the last year. The rent will eventually increase to $1 million a year.
Developers of the project are promising to donate $1 million to schools and nonprofits on Hawaii Island to promote science education and spend another $1 million a year to train people interested in telescope jobs or careers in science.
Native Hawaiians have filed lawsuits against the project. One of them is pending before the state Intermediate Court of Appeals.