Ige: Work on Thirty Meter Telescope starts next week

  • Photo courtesy TMT / A rendering of the planned exterior of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

  • Photo courtesy TMT / An artist’s rendering hows the position of the Thirty Meter Telescope, seen on the bottom-left, in comparison to the other telescopes on Maunakea’s summit.

Gov. David Ige announced Wednesday that construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Maunakea will begin next week after nearly five years of delays.

During a Honolulu press conference, Ige confirmed that, starting Monday, equipment and personnel will be moved to the summit of Maunakea so construction of the $1.4 billion telescope can begin after years of delay and controversy.

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“We have followed a 10-year process to get to this point, and the day for construction to begin has arrived,” Ige said.

Ed Sniffen, deputy director of the state Department of Transportation, said the Maunakea Access Road will be closed to all traffic beginning at 7 a.m. Monday to accommodate the transport of construction equipment and materials to the TMT site.

That closure is expected to last “days,” Sniffen said.

“We don’t like to restrict access,” Sniffen said. “But in this situation … when there’s heavy equipment that could cause safety issues, it’s a lot better to shut things down in the short term so we can take care of everyone in the long term.”

TMT spokesman Scott Ishikawa said crews are expected to begin site preparation work such as grading next week, assuming the necessary equipment can be transported to the site.

DOT spokeswoman Shelly Kunishige said the access road will allow limited access for personnel working at the existing telescopes at the summit. Meanwhile, lane restrictions will be implemented on the Daniel K. Inouye Highway as needed while equipment and materials are moved, although Sniffen said he hopes to maintain two-way traffic at all times.

Henry Yang, chairman of the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory’s board of governors, said the 10-year process of beginning the project has impressed upon everyone involved of the “unique importance of the mountain to all,” and said he acknowledges and respects those who oppose the project.

However, state Attorney General Clare Connors said law enforcement personnel have been trained and are prepared to respond to “whatever type of activity takes place.”

While Connors emphasized that the mountain will remain open — outside of periods of closure necessary for safe transport of materials — she said anyone engaged in unlawful activity on Maunakea will be dealt with appropriately.

“When the road is closed and the closures take place, we’re just going to ask everybody to follow the rules,” Connors said.

Ige said National Guard personnel will be deployed to aid in the construction process, but clarified that they would be unarmed and largely assisting in personnel and material transportation.

Heavy protests and road blockades caused significant delays to the construction process in 2014 and 2015, and vocal opposition to the project has only become more pronounced since the Board of Land and Natural Resources issued a notice to proceed for the project last month.

Ige’s announcement Wednesday came only two days after a lawsuit was filed in 3rd Circuit Court arguing that the project violated the University of Hawaii’s 1977 plan for managing Maunakea.

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Connors said the Department of the Attorney General will continue to review that lawsuit, but said she thinks its arguments have no merit and will not impede the project in any way.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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