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Telescope challengers demand spiritual, natural preservation

By Lara Yamada
Published On: Feb 12 2013 11:35:00 PM HST

Astronomers want to build the biggest optical telescope in the world on one of the islands most sacred summits.

HILO, Hawaii -

After years of controversy, heated debates and passionate protests, the drive to built the world's most powerful telescope atop Hawaii's tallest mountain took a critical step forward.

It has been a full year since the land board granted the permits to begin construction on the $1.3 billion 30-meter telescope on Mauna Kea.

That sparked yet another challenge.

On Tuesday, opponents got what might be their final chance to stop a massive global project.

Thousands of feet below the peaks of Mauna Kea, there were hollers and horns for the pros of a new 30-meter telescope.

"We really need the jobs, for us and for our kids, and I think it would really put the Big Island on the map," said Mark Travalino, who is with the Hawaii State Union.

On the streets their support blended with the pounding and chanting from those preparing to stop the development from happening.

"You are an eyewitness to a crime scene of unspeakable proportions,"said Kinohi Neves, who spoke on behalf of his father and the rest of his family.

The state land board heard from several people challenging a decision to allow construction to begin on the 30-meter telescope or TMT, arguing the spiritual and natural damage would be irreversible.

"The summit landscape which was once breathtaking beautiful is now more akin to a city landscape in my eyes," said Deborah Ward.

Ward is with the Sierra Club and has been a strong advocate for the preservation of Mauna Kea.

"Why is Mauna Kea allowed to be desecrated and not St. Peter's," questioned Neves.

"This is where our Kupuna used to pray," said Kalani Flores, who displayed maps that showed a sprinkling of numbers.

Flores said newer maps no longer show where those sites are.

The TMT would be the 14th telescope built on Mauna Kea and by far the largest.

Opponents say the 30-meter telescope would be built on Mauna Kea's Northern Plateau beause there simply isn't any room left on the summit.

"The proposition that an 18-story, 5-acre industrial structure proposal, to be built in a natural landmark and would have no significant impact, boggles the imagination," said Ward.

"This is not a denial of due process, but a failure of proof," said Tim Lui-Kwan, who is an attorney for the University of Hawaii.

UH has several telescopes on Mauna Kea and would benefit from the astronomical and scientific research done with the 30-meter telescope.

A 126 page report released in November 2012, determined the project satisfied all of the requirements to start building, including extensive training and research to avoid cultural and environmental harm, and dedicating millions to educational programs.

Still, the fight goes on, over the broad opportunities on Hawaii's tallest mountain top.

"The selection of Mauna Kea as a site for construction of the TMT is essential to Mauna Kea's scientific position as the best ground-based viewing platform," said Lui-Kwan.

"You are going to make a tremendous decision that's will affect me and my daughter and her children," said another protestor, Pualani Case.

It's now going to be a closed-door decision by the land board.

There is a possibility the losing side could file an appeal to the Circuit Court.  Then it would be in the hands of a judge to make the final decision.

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