Protest Again Delays Hawaii Giant Telescope Construction

Work on the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island of Hawaii was delayed again Wednesday after construction vehicles were blocked by hundreds of protesters, who say the giant telescope is being built on land sacred to Native Hawaiians.

Protesters pushed boulders into the road to the construction site atop Mauna Kea and stood in the way of vehicles, forcing construction crews to retreat and cancel work for the day.

Twelve people were arrested and Gov. David Ige (D) announced Wednesday evening that construction on the telescope would be put on hold again until further notice, according to local reports.

Work on what will be among the world's largest telescopes had been set to resume Wednesday morning after April protests led Gov. Ige to call for a "timeout" on construction so that developers and protesters could discuss stewardship of the mountain. Ige has since announced his support for the project's legality.

#BREAKINGNEWS: Hawaii DLNR (Department of Land and Natural Resources) agents just informed the hundreds of protestors who have gathered to prevent the Thirty Meter Telescope construction, that officers & TMT workers will be turning around and no longer asking anyone to leave or make any further arrests. More than 700 people gathered to stand in what they say is protection of a sacred Native Hawaiian space. Seven hours after protestors began lining up to prevent construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the on the summit of Mauna Kea, only 10 people have been arrested and the TMT crew only made it about 1.5 miles up the road. More details tonight on Hawaii News Now Developing details: #HINews #BehindTheScenes #WeAreYourSource

Posted by Mileka Lincoln on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The telescope debate has been emotional for both sides.

A state Department of Land and Natural Resources agent addressed protesters Wednesday with tears in his eyes. He apologized to the crowd, clearly familiar with him, saying, "You may not accept it, but I got to do my job." He then told them, "Our number one thing right now is public safety. We're not going up." He was met by cheers of "mahalo" (thank you) and hugs.

According to Hawaii News Now, protesters moved large rocks into the road to block the construction vehicles on Wednesday. West Hawaii Today reports that the construction vehicles, which were being escorted by police, "were stopped repeatedly by more than 300 protesters who set up about two dozen 'lines of defense' across the Mauna Kea access road."

Many Native Hawaiians believe Mauna Kea is where the Hawaiian islands originated, making it sacred land. They refer to themselves as "protectors" of the mountain, rather than protesters.

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Protesters were prepared for the confrontation. Kahookahi Kanuha, one of those arrested, told The Associated Press earlier in the day, "We're bracing ourselves mentally, spiritually for the battle ahead. I don't mean a physical battle. It's brain against brain."

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Once complete, the $1.4 billion project will be one of the world's largest telescopes. Scientists say that such a powerful telescope ideally located on Mauna Kea's summit will allow astronomers to see "forming galaxies at the very edge of the observable Universe, near the beginning of time," according to the TMT website.

thirty meter telescope
An artist's rendering of TMT.

This is a developing story and will be updated.