Wednesday | August 24, 2016
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Icy conditions delay TMT work

The start of construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea is being delayed due to blizzard conditions on the mountain’s summit.

TMT spokeswoman Sandra Dawson said early construction preparations would likely be getting underway at the site of the $1.4 billion project if it wasn’t for the winter storm. As long as the weather starts to cooperate, the TMT Observatory Corp. expects to see that work begin by the end of the month.

“We are at the mercy of the weather,” Dawson said.

The Mauna Kea access road was closed Monday after the summit was hit by heavy snow and wind.

Ryan Lyman, meteorologist for the Mauna Kea Weather Center, said it was difficult to estimate snowfall and wind speeds since the weather gauges had frozen over. He was expecting up to 2 feet of snow and winds between 50 and 70 mph.

“The winds are pounding,” he said. “Snow is all over the place.”

Conditions might clear enough for the road to be reopened as early as Friday or the weekend, Lyman said.

“I’m expecting snow for the next 12 hours, maybe a little break tomorrow, and back on it again tomorrow night,” he said Monday.

Dawson said the TMT Observatory Corp. will have a better idea when construction will begin once the weather clears. She said Goodfellow Brothers was selected as the primary contractor.

“We have to do some re-planning based on the weather,” she said.

While access to the construction site itself will be restricted, Dawson said plans are being put together to accommodate protests. It wasn’t immediately clear what that would involve.

“We’re working closely with the Office of Mauna Kea Management, the university and County of Hawaii to make sure that people have the right to express their opinions and that construction continues,” she said.

Protests during the groundbreaking ceremony last October led to the disruption of the event as TMT opponents took over the site. That occurred after demonstrators, who said they were upset that the road to the site was being restricted, set up their own roadblock, stopping some dignitaries from reaching the ceremony.

Legal challenges to the project remain pending in Third Court Court and the state Intermediate Court of Appeals.

Kealoha Pisciotta, a TMT opponent, said construction should not begin before those matters are settled.

“If they do start it will just be another example in how they are really no different than any other colonizer, doing the same thing, forcing their will on the people of Hawaii,” she said. “And including the host culture.”

The TMT is expected to be the world’s largest telescope when completed in 2022. It will capture its first images in 2024.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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