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If your Hawaii vacation includes a trip to the Big Island, you may want to stay tuned to the latest controversy involving the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea. That’s because protests against the telescope closed the Mauna Kea visitor center last week, and further protests could jeopardize the visitor center’s hours of operation.
According to the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station website, “Due to ongoing events, access to the VIS and beyond has been blocked. The VIS is closed until further notice. We are currently assessing the situation and we do not know when we will reopen. Check this website for updates. We apologize for the inconvenience. Mahalo for your understanding.”
The website is referring to recent protests by opponents of the TMT—Wednesday, 12 people were arrested when protesters confronted summit workers who were reporting for work. And, Thursday, construction crews found two rock altars on the access road leading to the Mauna Kea summit. The crews turned back ad did not report to work. According to the Honolulu Star Advertiser, the four-foot altars were built to create an obstacle course for vehicles.
According to opponents of the project, the TMT would further desecrate the mountain, which is considered sacred to many and home to 12 telescopes already. According to the website protectmaunakea.org, “Mauna Kea holds a special place on Earth, as it stands as a place of peace and Aloha, not just for Hawai`i but for the world. Many sacred places of the world hold ancient wisdom bound in ritual and ceremony for this time in our history, to help us all heal ourselves and the world. Mauna Kea is one of those places.”
The TMT controversy has even spread to the mainland. According to Hawaii News Now, several protesters gathered at the Las Vegas sign to protest the TMT. And, more opponents protested at Twin Peaks, the highest point in San Francisco. According to HNN, opponents are joining rallies or posting photos of support all over the world. Rally points include Oregon, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Dakota, Georgia and Massachusetts. There are even pictures and rallies from Korea, New Zealand, England and Germany.
Supporters of the TMT, which is being built by the TMT Observatory Corporation, say the telescope will “eventually will become the most advanced and powerful optical telescope on Earth. When completed, the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) will enable astronomers to study objects in our own solar system and stars throughout our Milky Way and its neighboring galaxies, and forming galaxies at the very edge of the observable Universe, near the beginning of time.”
Local supporters also say the telescope will provide jobs for local workers and help the state’s economy.
For now, Gov. David Ige has announced that the road to the summit will be closed indefinitely to the public—only essential vehicles will be allowed up. However, when the TMT project starts up again, protesters vow to be there to block access and/or halt progress.
That means no visitors will be allowed to access the Mauna Kea summit, and the Mauna Kea Visitor Center is closed until further notice.