About 500 protesters gathered Wednesday to block access roads to the summit of the Big Island and stop crews from beginning construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, planned to be the world's largest telescope once it's completed.
Eleven protesters were arrested for blocking the road to construction sites, after officials warned the crowds that they had to move. After about 7 hours, construction crews turned around due to protesters and the Department of Land and Natural Resources announced that no more arrests would be made.
The Governor of Hawaii released a statement Wednesday that said he was "disappointed" with the actions of protesters, who moved boulders into the roadways, and that construction was on hold until further notice.
Opposition to the massive telescope has been growing because many Hawaiians believe the site on Mauna Kea is sacred and feel the land has been mistreated since the 1960s, when astronomers first started using the area.
TMT representatives told BuzzFeed News that crews had planned to inspect the telescope and then install a fence around the construction zone on Wednesday.
Construction crews arrived around 7:30 a.m. and protesters successfully stalled them for more than an hour, but police warned people they would be arrested if they didn't move. Most people in the crowd dispersed peacefully without any arrests, Hawaii News Now reported.
But as construction crews drove forward about 50 yards, they were blocked again by another group of protesters, who said they were committed to holding their ground.
Hawaii County police confirmed to BuzzFeed News that at least one arrest had been made around 8:40 a.m. local time.
Protesters would then disperse and allow TMT's vehicles to move almost 100 yards, before another group would stand to block the convoy.
At least 10 arrests were made around 11:30 a.m. by the Department of Land and Natural Resources, KITV reported. Hawaii County police and the Department of Land and Natural Resources are both on site as they share responsibility for different areas on Mauna Kea.
After it became clear to the protesters that they would not be allowed to stand on the road, some people began pulling down rocks from the side of the road to block construction vehicles, Hawaii News Now reported.
At 1 p.m., the caravan carrying TMT construction crews turned around, because of efforts by protesters to block the roads. The Department of Land and Natural Resources said no more arrests would be made Wednesday.
Gov. David Ige released a statement Wednesday that said his office was "disappointed and concerned" that boulder were moved into the access road to Mauna Kea.
"This action is a serious and significant safety hazard and could put people at risk," the statement said. "We will be working to clear the roadway tomorrow."
"Therefore, construction is on hold until further notice," the Governor's statement concluded.
Thirty Meter Telescope representatives announced on Saturday that they would restart construction on the $1.4 billion project. The construction first began in March but was halted the following month after 31 people were arrested for blocking crews.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige originally called for the construction moratorium, but then in late May said construction could resume and gave his support of the project.
Protesters have been illegally camping at the Visitors Center, along the access road to the summit, for almost three months, saying they are protecting the mountain, where the Hawaiian creation story begins.
"Mauna Kea is a deeply sacred place, the wao akua, realm of the gods, and it is the piko (navel) that connects Earth Mother and Sky Father, as well as past and future generations of Native Hawaiians" Bianca Isaki, board member of KAHEA, a non-profit that works to protect Hawaii's natural and cultural resources, said to BuzzFeed News. "Mauna Kea is also a critical site of Native Hawaiian practices associated with observing movements of the stars."
Scientists say the unparalleled height and unique isolation of Mauna Kea offers views into the universe that with the technology of the new telescope will have never been seen before.
The land where the telescope is being constructed is managed by the University of Hawaii, and the California nonprofit building the Thirty Meter Telescope was formed by the University of California and the California Institute of Technology. Institutions in Canada, China, India and Japan are partners and would receive a share of observing time along with UH scientists.
The Supreme Court of Hawaii announced on Friday it would hear oral arguments Aug. 27 on the case challenging the telescope permit, the Associated Press reported.
Protests on Wednesday were also held in front of the Thirty Meter Telescope's headquarters in Pasadena, California, and in San Francisco. Additional protests were planned on neighbor islands Maui and Oahu.
Michelle Broder Van Dyke is a reporter and night editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Hawaii.
Contact Michelle Broder Van Dyke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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