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Court refuses to halt construction of controversial Hawaii telescope, governor urges calm amid protests

Thousands of protesters have opposed the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope at Mauna Kea's summit, a site considered sacred by Native Hawaiians.
Image: Mauna Kea Protest
Kaho'okahi Kanuha, wearing a traditional Hawaiian battle helmet, addresses a group of protesters who are continuing their opposition vigil against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope at Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii on July 19, 2019.Bruce Asato / Honolulu Star-Advertiser via AP

HONOLULU — The governor of Hawaii acknowledged Tuesday that an ongoing protest about a telescope planned atop the state's highest mountain is also about addressing the treatment of Native Hawaiians going back more than a century.

Gov. David Ige said he would ask Hawaii County's mayor to lead efforts to find common ground with Native Hawaiian protesters blocking construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope at the summit of Mauna Kea, a site considered sacred by many of the protesters.

A judge in Hilo, Hawaii, denied protesters' request Tuesday to halt the telescope's construction with a temporary restraining order, Hawaii News Now reported. Legal proceedings are still underway on a lawsuit against the Ige's emergency declaration limiting access to Mauna Kea to the public.

The lawsuit claims that the order unconstitutionally infringes on a Native Hawaiian's right to pray on the sacred ground.

The governor said he and Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim understand that the issues go deeper than the telescope and were about "righting the wrongs done to the Hawaiian people."

About 1,000 activists gathered Tuesday halfway up Mauna Kea in opposition to the $1.4 billion telescope, marking the ninth day of the protest. Over the weekend, crowds swelled to 2,000 people.

The demonstrators are blocking a road to prevent construction equipment and crews from going to the summit.

Ige indicated last week that he was willing to talk to protesters. But his statement Tuesday is the first public step he's taken toward that end.

"We will be working together to determine next steps that are in the best interests of all the people of Hawaii," Ige said.

Image: Mauna Kea Protest
Mauna Kea law enforcement personnel interact with protesters blocking a road to the summit of Mauna Kea, a site considered sacred in Hawaii on July 22, 2019.Dan Dennison / State of Hawaii via AP

Protest leader Kealoha Pisciotta said officials must consider not building the telescope on Mauna Kea.

She said she met previously with the mayor and governor without making any progress.

"We've done all of that. But it's window dressing trying to get our buy-in," Pisciotta said. "We really need people to honestly consider our positions this time."

Much of the opposition has tapped into deep-seated grievances tied to the U.S.-backed overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893, clashes over water and land rights, and frustrations over tourism and the exploitation of Hawaiian culture.

A consortium of universities and national observatories is pursuing the telescope project, which they hope will allow them to peer back more than 13 billion years to early moments of the universe.

They want to build on Mauna Kea because it has some of the world's best conditions for viewing the night sky.

There are 13 telescopes already on Mauna Kea's summit. The protesters say building another would further desecrate the site.