Pro-TMT demonstrators take to Hilo streets

  • Supporters of the Thirty Meter Telescope project lined up along Kanoelehua Avenue in Hilo during a rally Thursday in Hilo. (STEPHANIE SALMONS/Tribune-Herald)

  • Yvonne Verburgt shows support for the Thirty Meter Telescope project during a rally Thursday in Hilo. (STEPHANIE SALMONS/Tribune-Herald)

HILO — Yvonne Verburgt of Hilo is a retired chemist, a substitute teacher, and on Thursday, she was one of nearly 100 people lined up along Kanoelehua Avenue in support of the long-contested Thirty Meter Telescope.

Verburgt stood with the crowd gathered on the busy Hilo thoroughfare holding a handmade sign that read “TMT = Education.”

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Passing cars frequently honked in support, which was met with cheers from the crowd.

“We’ve been called the silent majority who support TMT,” Verburgt said. “We’re scientists. We’re engineers. So public rallies and everything is probably not our strong suit, but this is such an important issue for all of us that we just have to come out.”

Protests against the long-planned project broke out earlier this month, and are still ongoing, after it was announced that construction on the $1.4 billion observatory would begin on Maunakea.

Sandra Kirkpatrick of Keaau sat roadside with a sign that read “TMT for the keiki.”

She came out to support the project “because I feel that the TMT is actually really good for Hawaii, and that if people would back up and take a look at the bigger picture, they would be happy that the TMT is here for the education, for the science that’s going to put Hawaii in a world leadership position for astronomy — I mean it’s all good stuff,” she said. “More jobs, more money, more prestige.”

Laurie Chu, a Hilo-based astronomy graduate student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa spearheaded Thursday’s rally.

“I’ve just seen sort of the whole process of TMT and I’ve heard the different sides. I’ve seen a lot of support and people who are against. I felt like our voice wasn’t being heard and we kind of felt stifled, and so I thought if someone doesn’t take charge, then why not me?” she said.

Astronomy is fundamental to Hawaii, she said, not only because Native Hawaiians were navigators, but because they were explorers, too.

“I think that it’s something that we’ll be able to take what they did and carry it on as we explore our own shores of the universe,” said Chu.

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Chu was “a little shocked” by the turnout, but said people needed the outlet to share their support, and that “no one really knew how to have their voice be heard, and so I think this provided a way for everyone to act and show the community that we are here and we’re not hiding.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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