The Hawaii Supreme Court issued a decision today that supports the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea.
In a 73-page ruling, the court affirmed 4-1 the state Board of Land and Natural Resources’ decision to issue a construction permit for the $1.43 billion project. The DLNR’s decision to issue the conservation district use permit had been appealed by TMT opponents.
The telescope would be the biggest and most expensive in the Northern Hemisphere.
“On behalf of the TMT International Observatory, we are grateful for the Hawaii State Supreme Court’s ruling that will allow TMT to be built on Mauna Kea. We thank all of the community members who contributed their thoughtful views during this entire process,” Henry Yang, chair of the TMT International Observatory Board of Governors, said in a statement in response to the news.
“We remain committed to being good stewards on the mountain and inclusive of the Hawaiian community. We will honor the culture of the islands and its people and do our part to contribute to its future through our ongoing support of education and Hawaii Islands’ young people. We are excited to move forward in Hawaii and will continue to respect and follow state and county regulations, as we determine our next steps. We are deeply grateful to our many friends and supporters for their tremendous support over the years,” Yang said.
The court in June heard oral arguments in the case, having rescinded the telescope’s permit 2-1/2 years ago on procedural grounds after protests had prevented construction on the mountaintop.
Protesters in 2014 broke up a groundbreaking for the TMT and then blockaded the mountain, preventing any construction.
Mauna Kea is part of so-called “ceded lands” that originally belonged to the Hawaiian kingdom and are now administered by the state. In 1968, the University of Hawaii leased the top 11,000 acres of the mountain for a dollar a year, and began awarding subleases to various observatories for telescopes.
But some environmentalists and Native Hawaiian groups say the spread of observatories on the summit has polluted the mountain, interfering with traditional cultural and religious practices, or are actually infringing on the sovereignty of the Hawaiian kingdom.
A recent poll showed that a growing majority of Hawaiians favor building the telescope on Mauna Kea.
The telescope, the Thirty Meter (named for the diameter of its main light-collecting mirror), has been 15 years in the planning. It would be one of three gargantuan telescopes now in the works that could transform astronomy in the 21st century.
Thirty Meter astronomers had said if they didn’t get a green light to build on Mauna Kea, they would build it on La Palma in the Canary Islands, off Africa.
It had been estimated that the telescope would be completed in 2029 if construction starts next year.