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Astronomers hope builders will not abandon TMT plans

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    “I still think … there’s a way we can move forward balancing cultural aspects as well as scientific advancement.”

    —Heather Kaluna: First Native Hawaiian to earn a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Hawaii.

Scientists involved in Hawaii astronomy have a message for the builders of a giant telescope planned for a mountain held sacred by some 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, that will be bad not only for Hawaii astronomy, but also 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 colleges in California and Canada plans 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 problems. “We’re kind of used to showing up and not doing what we want to do.”

Coleman, who is Native Hawaiian, might 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 long-standing 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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  • Heather Kaluna is proof that not only do the loud mouth racist protesters not speak for the majority of Polynesian-Hawaiians, but that they are endangering the future of commerce hear that will hurt their standard of living in the future.

    • The only thing the “protectors” are protecting is their continued worship of ignorance and superstition. And for those of you who say that the TMT should be built in Chile, another ignorant statement. Can’t see the much of the northern celestial hemisphere from Chile. It has to be built in the Northern Hemisphere and Mauna Kea is the perfect location, just as it was/is for the Keck telescopes. Bottom line: Don’t let ignorance and superstition hinder us on our journey back to the stars.

    • SA continues to repeat the ignorant remark that Hawaiians believe the mountain is sacred. Most Hawaiians, who are Christians, do not believe that at all. The protesters are a small, sad group who speak for themselves. But I note in Hawaii the tail often wags the dog. Being concerned about a safe, sound environmental position is not the same thing as claiming the mountain is “sacred.”

    • it’s one claim that ignorance and superstition won over science. and it’s another claim that tedious permit procedures were not religiously followed in planning for the tmt.

      once the permit procedures are properly completed knowledge will again have carried the day, or the night, in this incident.

      time is on the side of science.

      • the protectors have learned to use the laws to there advantage. all they have to do is keep delaying it and TMT will go some place else. parts are already being built they will have to store them away for years

        • These desecraters continually make statements that they are not part of the U.S. when it’s convenient and a part of it when a court ruling goes their way. More hypocrites. Don’t anyone worry, the TMT will be built, and everyone will remember how racist and America hating these sovereignty activists have been.

  • It’s pretty clear that due process, a cornerstone of the Bill of Rights, was ignored by the State and by the applicant in securing its conditional use permit to construct on conservation land. Interesting how the comments shift blame to racist protestors who constitute a small sad group. The ends never justify the means and now is as good a time as any for Ms. Kaluna to learn this lesson.

    • The process was vague, but not now. The AG will walk this through this time, it will be on fast track in order to get to another contested case hearing, and this time it will be a done deal. Still it won’t matter to these losers. They will just say that “we don’t have to abide by the ruling of this fake State!”.

  • I hope the TMT people stay committed to seeing the telescope built. Take the time to get all legal permitting and legal aspects taken care of, kick the barbarians to the curb, and build the telescope.

  • In the mean time, what are the backers to do,wait until dooms day for permission to be granted? Yes, they are many local astronomers who will be affected should the backers decide to move on to another location. They will have to seek employment in Chile or elsewhere should they want to pursue their employment expertise. A vexing issue for sure. Whereas the protester have challenged progress and prevailed to protect their identity as care-takers of sacred lands??

  • Just wait until the protester’s kids grow up, can’t find a job worth its pay, will realize that the TMT will provide a job worth holding as s career.

    • These desecraters are already on the public dole. There are over 855 race based for Polynesian-Hawaiian only programs in this State. They never have to work again, are you kidding. Oh, did I forget? Got EBT?

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