TMT Supporters Rally in Kona
Several dozen supporters of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) lined Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway on Thursday to advocate on what they believe is the best course forward for Hawai‘i.
Upwards of 50 people from across the West Hawai‘i community gathered in front of the Kona Hawai‘i Mormon Temple at around 4:30 p.m. equipped with colorful signs and enthusiasm for their cause.
One of those in attendance was Wendy Laros, executive director of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, who said she was there representing her organization — of which TMT is a member.
“We’ve been advocating for the development of TMT for many, many years,” Laros said of the Chamber. “I was very happy with all the support. It was a really positive experience.”
The business angle, she continued, goes beyond the construction jobs the $1.4 billion project would create or the money TMT has pledged to education initiatives within the context of STEM.
“Our primary economic driver is tourism,” Laros said. “Astronomy is a way to diversify the economy.”
Members of labor unions were also sign-waving until sunset Thursday, as were some children and some retirees. Laura Aquino, who is contracted to assist with public relations work for TMT, said she was proud to see most demographics represented within the group.
“It was a good day for Kona supporters,” Aquino said. “I think it turned out excellent. There were a lot of honks.”
The sign-waving event was initiated by community members who reached out to Aquino and asked her to help with coordination, she said. There are also upcoming plans for visual representations of support for TMT, Aquino added.
Like Laros, Aquino said the county’s and the state’s business reputations and future business prospects are linked to whether or not the controversial telescope gets built.
“We can not downplay the fact that the project has gone through the legal process. That means something,” Aquino said. “That process has to be upheld. It’s imperative to the future of our community that businesses know they will be allowed to follow the process, get their permits and (start operating).”
Hundreds of protesters yet remain atop Maunakea, the mountain upon which TMT is set to be built. For more than three months, a peaceful demonstration has blocked Maunakea Access Road, which construction equipment must access to being building TMT.
While negotiations between protesters and Hawai‘i County Mayor Harry Kim continue, protestors have held firm that nothing short of calling off the telescope’s construction will prompt them to disperse. Some Native Hawaiians consider the lands atop Maunakea as sacred.