Construction is set to begin on the Thirty Meter Telescope next week, Gov. David Ige announced Wednesday.
State officials said they plan to close Mauna Kea Access Road at 7 a.m. Monday and possibly other roads. Hunting areas A, K and G will be also be closed temporarily.
“We are just asking people to be safe,” Ige said at a press conference Wednesday at the Capitol. “We certainly would ask that they be respectful of those who have to work on this project as they try to make a living for their families.”
Ige added members of the National Guard will be used to help with the transport of construction workers and supplies but that they will not be armed.
The access road will be closed at all hours until the heavy equipment for the construction is transported, said Ed Sniffen from the state Department of Transportation.
State officials also said that two telescopes have begun the environmental review process for removal and site restoration. Five are set to be decommissioned.
The telescope project has been under consideration for 16 years, overcoming numerous legal and political hurdles. Mauna Kea on the Big Island is already the site of several observatories, but the TMT would be by far the biggest.
Henry Yang, chairman of the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory Board of Governors, said at the press conference that the telescope will have the capacity to “reach back into the beginning of time, facilitating unprecedented research.”
“We aim to build the TMT for the benefit of all of mankind,” he said.
But the TMT project has sparked significant opposition from some Native Hawaiian activists who say it would further desecrate a mountain that they consider sacred. The state Supreme Court approved the project last fall, but protesters filed another lawsuit against the telescope Monday in another effort to prevent construction.
Construction is expected to usher in more confrontations with opponents. Last time construction was attempted in 2015, more than 30 activists were arrested on the mountain. Both the state and anti-TMT activists are concerned about the potential for violence.
While Wednesday’s press conference was being held, protesters stood in the entryway of Ige’s office holding up signs saying, “Decriminalize Aloha Aina,” and “Bulldoze Your Own Temple.”
Healani Sonoda-Pale held a sign saying “Accept Our Existence Or Expect Resistance.” She addressed reporters after the press conference and said the state is wasting money facilitating a project that could mirror Honolulu’s rail budget and schedule debacle. She said it’s illegal for the state to prevent Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners from accessing Mauna Kea.
“That’s public lands. That’s Kanaka Maoli land,” she said. “If we want to go up there and pray we have that right.”
The Thirty Meter Telescope is expected to cost at least $1.4 billion — some estimates put the price as high as $2 billion — and is a collaboration between universities, governments and organizations in the U.S., Japan, India, China and Canada.
Scott Ishikawa, a spokesman for the TMT, said that project officials will re-evaluate the cost once construction begins. The TMT has a 10-year construction timeline and has already experienced a four-year delay. But Ishikawa stressed that all of the project partners have committed to full funding.