‘You failed up there’: Hawaii approves $1.4bn telescope despite sacred land protests

Computer rendering of the Thirty Meter Telescope. © TMT Observatory Corporation / Wikipedia

The Hawaii land board has approved the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Mauna Kea mountain which has for years been the subject of of contentious debate and protests that it will desecrate a mountain sacred to the natives.

On Thursday, after weeks of hearings, the Hawaii Land Board decided to allow the TMT project to move forward in a five to two decision, according to AP. Hawaiians had voiced their opinions for and against the resurrection of the pricey telescope for 44 days.

Opponents can appeal the decision, but it wasn’t immediately clear what will be done. Officials associated with the project did not immediately comment or discuss construction plans going forward.

The Thirty Meter telescope would be one of the world’s largest. It is supposed to be built inside the volcanic caldera of Mauna Kea mountain, which many native Hawaiians consider sacred. Supporters say the telescope will provide educational opportunities, while those against the construction say it will desecrate the state’s tallest mountain.

Paul Neves, a Hawaiian native and opponent of the project, said the non-profit building the telescope is made up of outsiders and that there has already been too much development on Mauna Kea. The volcanic cone of the mountain already has 13 telescopes.

“You failed up there,” Neves told the board. “Telescope after telescope after telescope, you failed.”

On the other hand, supporters of the project have formed a group called Perpetuating Unique Educational Opportunities following the debate about the telescope’s fate on the sacred mountain. Some group members opposed the project in the past, but have since changed their stance on the controversial telescope.

“We believe that with increased opportunities for children, that results in stronger families, which in turn benefits our community,” Lincoln Ashida, the group’s attorney told the board.

“This was one of the most difficult decisions this board has ever made,” State Board of Land and Natural Resources Chairwoman Suzanne Case said.

On Thursday, a protest leader named Kahookahi Kanuha voiced a call to action to her fellow Hawaiians.

READ MORE: Protesters block construction of massive telescope on sacred Hawaiian mountain

“For the Hawaiian people, I have a message: This is our time to rise as a people,” Kanuha said, according to the New York Times. “This is our time to take back all of the things that we know are ours. All the things that were illegally taken from us.”

While testifying before the board, Kanuha alluded to a new generation of Hawaiian activists and said Native Hawaiians “will determine what places are sacred and how they should be protected.”

In 2015,  protesters set up roadblocks to oppose construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Construction vehicles and their police escorts “were stopped repeatedly by more than 300 protesters who set up about two dozen ‘lines of defense’ across the Mauna Kea access road,” according to reports. State and local police arrested a dozen demonstrators during the incident.