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Thirty Meter Telescope board defers decision on where to build

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    A 2014 artist’s rendering of the Thirty Meter Telescope against a backdrop of other Mauna Kea telescopes.

The TMT International Observatory board has postponed its decision on whether to build the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii.

In a news release today, the TMT board said, “The TMT International Observatory Board of Governors at its meeting this week deferred a decision on whether to continue towards building the Thirty Telescope in Hawaii, or to consider the alternative in the Canary Islands.”

“A decision will be made on the planned location of the Thirty Meter Telescope as further progress is made in the legal and regulatory processes at both proposed sites,” the board said.

The announcement comes after the Senate voted Thursday in favor of a ban on new construction atop Mauna Kea.

Lawmakers voted 15-8 on House Bill 1585 after Sen. Kaiali’i Kahele (D, Hilo) helped make changes on the measure that include requiring a series of audits of the University of Hawaii which manages the Maunakea Science Reserve, before a ban would be lifted.

Kahele, chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, supports TMT but said the measure would hold both UH and the Department of Land and Natural Resources accountable for stewardship of the mountain. He also believes the project is being rushed.

The measure will be sent back to the House where House Speaker Scott Saiki indicated the House has no plans to advance the bill.

The project has been stalled the past two years. After the project was thwarted by protesters and a state Supreme Court ruling in late 2015, the board launched a search for an alternative site.

The project is currently on appeal at the Hawaii Supreme Court. Two appeals are challenging the project’s sublease and its conservation district use permit.

The TMT board, meanwhile, has been pursuing a backup site for the telescope in the Canary Islands.

In the news release, TMT Executive Director Ed Stone said, “While Maunakea remains our preferred choice, we continue to work closely with planning officials at our alternative site in the Canary Islands.”

The environmental and permitting process for a site in La Palma on the Canary Islands is ongoing.

Last month, newspapers in Spain and the Canary Islands reported the TMT board assured local officials that the decision about where to build the observatory would be delayed until November.

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