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Scientists hope court setback doesn’t stop Thirty Meter Telescope

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    The state Supreme Court recently invalidated the $1.4 billion projects permit to build on conservation land near the summit of Mauna Kea. The court sent the matter back for a new contested case hearing, which could delay construction by several years. The nonprofit company building the Thirty Meter Telescope hasn’t indicated what it will do next. Protesters say they will continue to fight the telescope at every step if officials pursue a new hearing.

Scientists involved in Hawaii astronomy have a message for the builders of a giant telescope planned for a mountain held sacred by Native Hawaiians: Hang in there.

The state Supreme Court recently invalidated the $1.4 billion project’s permit to build on conservation land near the summit of Mauna Kea. The court sent the matter back for a new contested case hearing, which could delay construction by several years. The nonprofit company building the Thirty Meter Telescope hasn’t indicated what it will do next. Protesters say they will continue to fight the telescope at every step if officials pursue a new hearing.

If the project dies, not only will that be bad for Hawaii astronomy, but for any high-tech industry considering Hawaii, said Paul Coleman, an astrophysicist at the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy.

“If it’s not possible to get around this, then it really kind of shines a bad light on Hawaii,” he said. “This will be a global disappointment. I would think it would be very hard for a new project to come here, ever.”

A group of universities in California and Canada plan to build the telescope with partners from China, India and Japan. Coleman said he’s hopeful the countries involved “feel this is a project worth hanging on for.”

After all, astronomers are accustomed to long delays. “One project I was involved in took me five years to get data,” Coleman said of various weather and technical issues. “We’re kind of used to showing up and not doing what we want to do.”

Coleman, who is Native Hawaiian, may never get to use to the telescope if it’s built, he said. But a fellow Native Hawaiian in the field, who recently earned her doctorate from the University of Hawaii, could.

“I still think the project is a good project and there’s a way we can move forward balancing cultural aspects as well as scientific advancement,” said Heather Kaluna, who is the first Native Hawaiian to earn a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Hawaii.

Doug Simons, executive director of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope already on Mauna Kea, is concerned that abandoning the project could prevent other Big Island students like Kaluna from educational opportunities in science. Thirty Meter Telescope officials launched the Hawaii Island New Knowledge Fund for STEM education, a fund that will contribute $1 million annually for the 19-year Mauna Kea sublease with the University of Hawaii.

“We don’t have that kind of philanthropy flowing into the school community,” Simons said. “That would be a huge loss.”

Having lived on the Big Island for 30 years, Simons said he sympathizes with protesters’ cultural concerns.

“TMT and Mauna Kea have served as something of a focal point in a range of longstanding concerns within the Hawaiian community,” he said, adding that he knows protesters are not against science, or the telescope itself.

“It happened to be a telescope,” that protesters banded together to oppose, he said. “It could have been something else somewhere else in the islands.”

Despite their disagreements about Mauna Kea, Simons said he has had a good relationship with the protesters who maintained constant vigil on the mountain to prevent construction from resuming. “I’ve always been treated with respect and I’ve never felt threatened,” he said.

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  • Who in the world wrote that headline? It not only doesn’t make any sense, it is grammatically incorrect. Where is the verb, should the word “cancel” or “ilimate” be in the title. This is one of the hired 3rd world writers employed by SA. Why can’t they employ Americans? Oh, they cost too much.

  • Over and over the Nei has proven it is not compatible with change and high technology. From the SuperFerry blocking on Kauai, to the ongoing state computer system debacles, to the ever increasing money pit of rail. A track record of failures.

    TMT backers have come to realize the Nei is a black hole for high tech, mo bettah they move the TMT to an area where it is wanted, has a proven track record of supporting space technology, Chile. Atacama, the high desert of Chile, is waiting with open arms to welcome the TMT. No lolo, clueless protesters, no whiners, no fake rock piles. Just people waiting to go to work and get the job done.

    As the article shows, Chile is an astronomer’s paradise. Hawaii is an astronomer’s black hole, no intelligent life forms. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-14205720

    • The VLT array and ALMA negate the need for the TMT in the Southern Hemisphere. We need the TMT in the Northern Hemisphere so that we have complete coverage of the entire sky. Mauna Kea is THE best place in the Northern Hemisphere for the TMT.

      • Can’t talk to people who know nothing of the celestial sphere. Can’t see a large portion of the northern celestial sphere from Chile! What don’t you understand about that???

        • agree but Hawaii is not intellectually cAPable of supporting this project hon. It needs to go where people will appreciate the science and opportunities.

  • Hawaiians are steeped in their culture, the past and not the future. This is only one example. They pride themselves in ocean voyages guided only by the stars and yet are fighting something that will further that effort. They use old manual techniques to rebuild ancient fish ponds when modern machinery and tools are available and would make the process more efficient and complete it quicker rather than taking 50 years to rebuild a portion of the fish pond. Mauna Kea does have religious value and significance but not that which these Hawaiians are proclaiming. Read “God of Light, God of Darkness” by Daniel Kikawa.

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