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Telescope construction crew will return to Hawaii mountain Mauna Kea for maintenance work


HONOLULU — A small crew will return this month to the Hawaii mountaintop construction site of a hotly debated giant telescope project.

Workers will go to Mauna Kea for equipment maintenance and repairs, Thirty Meter Telescope officials announced Tuesday. An exact date hasn't been identified, spokesman Scott Ishikawa said.

Construction of the $1.4 billion telescope has been on hold on the mountain since April, when protesters blocked workers from accessing the site. Dozens of protesters who consider the mountain sacred to Native Hawaiians were arrested then, along with protesters at another failed attempt to re-start construction in June.

Protest leaders recently decided that it's no longer necessary to sleep on the mountain because they trust that officials will give them advance notice of when crews return.

Telescope officials are still assessing whether the date will be made public, Ishikawa said.

One of the protest leaders, Kahookahi Kanuha, said opponents will be ready whenever workers go to the mountain. "I tell the people hoomakaukau — get ready," he said. "I put out the call to all our people to stand strong. Be ready."

Telescope officials should hold off while the state Supreme Court is considering a challenge to the permit that allows the telescope to be built on conservation land, said another protest leader, Kealoha Pisciotta.

The work will be primarily maintenance on vehicles that have sat idle, Ishikawa said. Meanwhile, work on telescope parts has been ongoing in countries that are partners in the project.

The announcement comes a day after the nonprofit company building the telescope released results from a public opinion poll, which showed 75 percent of Hawaii residents agreeing that the project followed a lengthy approval process and that work should proceed.

"The poll was not the catalyst for the decision, but it did show there was support for the project," Ishikawa said.

Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa .

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