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Board denies challenges to telescope’s approval

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    This artist’s rendering made available by TMT Observatory Corp. shows the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope.

The Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources has denied requests to contest the approval of a sublease for the Thirty Meter Telescope, allowing construction to move forward for what will be one of the largest telescopes in the world.

The University of Hawaii leases land from the state where the $1.3 billion telescope would be built on the summit of the Big Island’s Mauna Kea. The board last month approved the sublease between the university and TMT International Observatory LLC but deferred its going into effect pending contested case requests.

Opponents raised questions about whether land appraisals were done appropriately and whether Native Hawaiians were properly consulted. They said that if the telescope is built on Hawaii’s tallest peak, it will desecrate a place held sacred by Native Hawaiians.

The board approved the staff recommendation to deny the contest case requests at a meeting Friday.

The sublease was the last major bureaucratic hurdle for scientists, although the project also faces the threat of lawsuits.

Construction is scheduled to start later this year, the telescope’s board of directors said in a news release Monday. A site dedication ceremony is planned for October.

“TMT has worked for many years to design an unprecedented telescope, but also to work with the community to incorporate respect for Mauna Kea in our stewardship,” said project manager Gary Sanders. “It is an honor and a privilege to now begin building our next-generation observatory in so special a place.”

The project was initiated by the University of California, California Institute of Technology and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy. Universities and institutions in China, India and Japan later signed on as partners.

If built, the Thirty Meter Telescope could be the largest optical telescope in the world, sporting a primary mirror that would be nearly 100 feet, or 30 meters, in diameter.

But that title could be usurped by a group of European scientists who are working on the European Extremely Large Telescope. They plan to have a mirror that is 138 feet, or 42 meters, in diameter.

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