Thursday, July 11, 2019

The On-Again/Off-Again Hawaiian Telescope Seems to be On (Again) - Part 2

From the NY Times: Gov. David Ige of Hawaii announced on Wednesday that construction will begin next week on a giant telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea, the volcano that looms over the Big Island of Hawaii.

The announcement was widely expected after a series of court rulings in recent years had gone the embattled telescope’s way. “We have followed a 10-year process to get to this point,” Mr. Ige said.

He was flanked at a news conference by Henry Yang, the chancellor of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and chair of the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory. 

“We have learned much about the unique importance of Mauna Kea to all,” Dr. Yang said. “Hawaii is a very special place that has long honored the arts of astronomy and navigation.”

He added, “We would like to acknowledge those who disagree with this project and their right to voice their disagreement.”

The Thirty Meter Telescope will be the largest telescope in the Northern Hemisphere, with a primary mirror bigger than a basketball court, and one of the most expensive: According to knowledgeable, unaffiliated astronomers, its costs could reach $2 billion.

But the project has been plagued with controversy and a series of legal and illegal obstacles. Activists have opposed it, saying that decades of telescope-building on Mauna Kea have polluted the mountain. In 2014, protesters disrupted a groundbreaking ceremony and blocked construction vehicles from mountain roads.

Mauna Kea is considered “ceded land” that once belonged to the Hawaiian kingdom and is now held in trust for native Hawaiians. Some of them have contended that the construction of telescopes on the mountain’s summit — 13 so far — has interfered with cultural and religious practices. For others, the telescope project has become a symbol of Western colonization.

The telescope would be built by an international collaboration called the TMT International Observatory, led by the University of California and the California Institute of Technology, but also including Japan, China, India and Canada.

This week a coalition of activists led by Kealoha Pisciotta filed a legal challenge in the Third Circuit Court of Hawaii, seeking an injunction against the telescope construction. The TMT International Observatory, the activists said, had failed to post a security bond that is required under a 1977 plan that governs the management of the mountain. The bond, in the amount of the full cost of the project, would cover the cost of restoring the site to its natural state once the telescope has finished its mission.

“By failing to post the bond, they have laid all financial liability on the People of Hawai’i, in the event the TMT doesn’t get full funding,” Ms. Pisciotta said in an email. “And this is especially important because they don’t have full funding now.”

In an email, Douglas Ing, a lawyer for the observatory, said: “We had a brief opportunity to review an unfiled copy of a lawsuit. We believe this is a weak lawsuit and we expect to defeat it.”...

Full story at

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