Friday, December 04, 2015

Construction permit rescinded for the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea

by Salman Hameed

This is quite astonishing! The battle over the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope has been going on for years and I did not think that the opponents of the telescope had much chance of victory. But earlier this year, protestors blocked the road to Mauna Kea summit, thus halting the start of TMT construction. This resulted in arrests and it seemed like it was only a momentary delay. But somehow the protestors kept the momentum going and the Hawai'i Supreme Court decided to revisit the issue of construction permit. The construction was again set to begin two weeks ago, but the court halted it until its verdict on the issue. And now the verdict is in - and the court has rescinded the construction permit for the telescope:

The Board of Land and Natural Resources (Board) issued the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo (UH) a permit to construct a 180-foot high astronomical observatory within a conservation district on Mauna Kea over the objections of Native Hawaiians and others, who sought a contested case hearing to fully assess the effects of the project prior to making a decision of whether to issue the permit. Instead, the Board approved the permit but included a condition that, if a contested case proceeding was initiated, then construction could not commence until the Board conducted such a hearing. The Board’s procedure of holding a contested case hearing after the permit has already been issued does not comply with our case law...nor with due process under the Hawaiʻi Constitution
You read the full decision here. I will have more to say on this. But I think this is the right decision. I think astronomers (not all!) were/are on the wrong side of history on this one. There was a lot of feet dragging and most of the "compromises" made by astronomers  were minimal - and only after a lot of protests. The runner-up site for TMT was Atacama desert in Chile. I think that is the place for TMT!

In the mean time, here is a NASA image of Mauna Kea from the International Space Station taken on Nov 1 and released just a couple of days before the court decision (!): 


From the NYT article about the recent decision: 
With the court’s ruling, the Thirty Meter Telescope Observatory Corporation and its board will have to start the permit process over — or, in the words of Deborah Ward, one of those who had challenged the permit in court, “take their toys and play in another sandbox.” 
In a Twitter message, the telescope consortium said, “This is not a judgment against T.M.T., but rather against the state’s process in granting the permits.” 
Later, Henry Yang, chairman of the telescope’s board, said in a statement: “T.M.T. will follow the process set forth by the state, as we always have. We are assessing our next steps on the way forward.” 
The telescope board is scheduled to meet again in February but could convene earlier.
Full article here

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