HONOLULU — Public support for the stalled $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope project has never been stronger, according to a newspaper poll.

The poll commissioned earlier this month by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser asked 800 randomly selected registered voters across the state if they support or oppose the construction of the telescope on Mauna Kea.

About 77 percent of the respondents said they support it, while 15 percent oppose it and 8 percent were undecided.

The poll found that support has especially grown among Hawaii natives. About 72 percent of native respondents supported the telescope in the latest poll. Two years ago the native approval was only 39 percent.

“People are starting to realize this opportunity is once in a lifetime. We can’t afford to give it away,” said Richard Ha, director of Perpetuating Unique Educational Opportunities, a Hawaii native nonprofit that formed to help support the telescope.

Others, however, said the poll results were a surprise.

Kailua resident and Hawaii native Kawika Villa, 39, who participated in the poll, said he was surprised to hear so many natives supported the telescope.

“I don’t know any Hawaiians who support it,” he said.

Villa said he opposes the project for cultural reasons and because he doesn’t like the way the University of Hawaii has managed the summit of Hawaii’s tallest mountain, among other things.

“I know that in order to gain favor and approval, a lot of money has been spent to persuade people to back the TMT and to be happy it’s going to be here,” he said. “A lot of people supported rail when it started, but now they see what’s happening.”

The state Supreme Court is currently weighing two appeals regarding the telescope, one challenging the project’s sublease and the other a conservation district use permit.

Oral arguments were heard on the sublease issue last week, while written briefs and responses are still being submitted in the other case.

If the court grants either appeal, the project could be switched to its backup site in the Canary Islands.

Conducted March 13-18 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy of Washington, D.C., the poll asked 800 randomly selected registered voters. The margin of error is 3.5 percent either way.


Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, http://www.staradvertiser.com

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