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Protesters Force Telescope Builders to Retreat From Hawaiian Mountain

Protesters cheered after construction crews retreated from a telescope construction site on a mountain that Native Hawaiians consider sacred.

HONOLULU — Hundreds of protesters on a Hawaii mountain road erupted in cheers Wednesday after construction crews turned around and retreated from the site for what would be one of the world's largest telescopes.

The billion-dollar project has drawn intense opposition from Native Hawaiians who say the 18-story observatory on the Big Island's Mauna Kea would desecrate land they consider sacred.

Work on the Thirty Meter Telescope has been stalled for months after a large group blocked access to the mountaintop in April, a demonstration that led to 31 arrests. Protesters said they were ready to adopt similar tactics and go to jail if necessary to make their point Wednesday.

Hawaii County police arrested one man, while state Department of Land and Natural Resources police arrested 11 others, officials said.

Image: Mauna Kea arrest
A man is arrested on Wednesday after blocking the road to the top of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, where the giant Thirty Meter Telescope is being constructed.Mileka Lincoln / Hawaii News Now via AP

Several hundred gathered more than 9,000 feet up Mauna Kea, blocking workers who intended to install fencing around the construction site near the summit. The protesters blocked the road, then let workers pass, and different groups repeated the pattern several times at higher points on the mountain.

Read More: Hawaii Governor Says Telescope Can Go Ahead

Mike McCartney, Gov. David Ige's chief of staff, said in a statement that "large boulders were found in the roadway leading to the summit." McCartney said crews will work to clear the roadway on Thursday and that construction was put on hold. Protester Kainoa Stafford said the crews eventually turned around and headed back down.

Astronomers are interested in the site because its summit is nearly 14,000 feet high, well above the clouds and able to provide a clear view of the sky 300 days a year. There's also very little air and light pollution. Thirteen other large telescopes occupy Mauna Kea.