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$1.3 Billion Mauna Kea Telescope Approved For Construction

February 28, 2011

The Thirty Meter Telescope Observatory Corp. of Pasadena, Calif., wants to build one of the largest, most advanced telescopes in the world near the summit of Mauna Kea. The Hawaii State Board of Land and Natural Resources unanimously approved a permit to build the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on conservation land joining 13 other telescopes already in operation on the mountain.

University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood tells the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, she was “very pleased” that the land board granted a conservation district use permit for the Thirty Meter Telescope, and is hopeful that the contested case will allow the project to continue.

Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands Administrator Samuel J. Lemmo told the newspaper the hope is to have the contested case hearing concluded within six months.

Opponents of the construction were granted their request for a contested case hearing, allowing one last chance to make their case and get a final review by the land board. Several Hawaiians say the construction defiles Mauna Kea’s summit, which they consider sacred and environmentalists oppose the construction, explaining it would harm the rare Wekiu bug.

Miwa Tamanaha, executive director of Kahea: The Hawaiian Environmental Alliance says “When you bulldoze the highest temple, the highest church of a people, we as a society are saying something about what those people are worth,”

Proponents however see parallels between Hawaiians ancient star-guided navigational skills and the modern studies of the cosmos conducted atop 13,796-foot Mauna Kea.

John Hamilton, a physics and astronomy teacher at the University of Hawaii at Hilo who has observed the stars for 26 years from Hawaii says, “Yes, Mauna Kea is sacred, and I believe the peaceful work done at the observatories extends and continues this tradition of connecting to the universe.”

Marti Townsend, staff attorney and program director for Kahea, said TMT Observatory is committed to paying a “substantial amount” in exchange for the lease and that those funds would be used for the management of Mauna Kea.

“This basically is a pay-to-degrade policy,” she told Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s William Cole. “There is no pay-to-degrade policy in the state rules. We don’t have the option to let somebody pay in order to destroy the conservation district,” Townsend added.

With an estimated cost of $1.3 billion, the TMT Observatory will create construction and operations jobs and is committed to providing $1 million a year for student education programs, and would sit within the Mauna Kea Science Reserve’s 11,288-acre area leased by UH from the state for use as a scientific complex.

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