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TMT work delayed again

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The TMT Observatory Corp. has, for a third time this month, postponed construction of its large telescope on Mauna Kea.

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The TMT Observatory Corp. has, for a third time this month, postponed construction of its large telescope on Mauna Kea.

Construction work, which so far is limited to grubbing and grading, has been delayed since 31 protesters were arrested April 2 for attempting to block workers from reaching the planned site of the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope near the mountain’s summit.

That delay, which already had been extended once, was scheduled to lapse Monday.

In a statement sent out late Friday, Gov. David Ige announced the extended halt and said any further announcements about the construction schedule would come from TMT.

Asked how long the latest timeout would continue, TMT spokeswoman Sandra Dawson said she was unable to answer that question because there are discussions that must take place first. For now, she said, TMT would assess the situation on a day-by-day basis.

Ultimately, Dawson said some accommodations could be made, but did not elaborate on what that might involve.

“If there are things we can do together to come to some understandings, we want to do that,” she said.

Dawson added that the people who work for TMT are good, respectful people, and “obviously concerned for how people feel.”

Lanakila Mangauil, one of the protest leaders, said Friday’s extension shows the California-based nonprofit corporation is worried about how to move forward.

“I think they’re really back against the wall and realize they can’t push their weight around,” he said.

Postponing construction of the 180-foot-tall observatory, however, won’t keep Mangauil and others off the mountain, he said.

“We’re not moving, we’re not going to be standing down,” he said. “We’re going to be keeping watch and educating people.”

Mangauil added any compromise that still would allow TMT to be built is out of the question.

“For us, no, there’s been too many compromises on the mountain already,” he said.

TMT opponents, many of whom consider the mountain sacred, have kept a 24-hour presence outside the Mauna Kea visitor center for the past three weeks. Protests, which have received a surge of support through social media and endorsements from local celebrities, have spread across the islands and to mainland cities, including Las Vegas and Portland, Ore.

In his initial announcement April 7, Ige said a stand-down would allow time for him to “evaluate the situation from multiple perspectives.”

“My understanding is that TMT followed an almost seven-year planning and permitting process, which included public hearings and community input,” the governor said Friday. “Following this process, project permits were issued. The TMT team is legally entitled to use its discretion to proceed with construction.

“I understand that not everyone will agree with this and recognize and respect their right to appeal through the court system.”

Ige added that he and his staff used the two-week timeout to listen and learn about Mauna Kea from various stakeholders.

“I learned about other issues that need our attention to create and implement a better plan for the stewardship of Mauna Kea,” he said.

Ige said that plan might include decommissioning and removing older telescopes and facilities to restore the summit, reducing the level of activity on the summit, and integrating culture and science.

“My administration will be working with the University of Hawaii, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the community to actively pursue these outcomes,” he said.

TMT would be the 14th observatory on the mountain and capable of seeing 13 billion light years away. The California Institute of Technology, the University of California and the governments of India, China and Japan are the primary TMT partners.

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Email Chris D’Angelo at cdangelo@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.