TMT gets approved, again

The Board of Land and Natural Resources of the State of Hawai’i has, again, issued its approval for the building of the giant Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) atop the Big Island’s Mauna Kea mountain. This puts the controversial project, which aims to build the “most advanced and powerful” optical telescope in the world, back on track.

The Board originally issued a construction permit for the $1.4 billion endeavor back in 2011, but it was revoked by the state’s Supreme Court in December of 2015, which decided that the project moved too quickly without taking enough of the opposing views into account.

As we have reported previously, a vocal protest movement had coalesced against the building of the TMT, citing cultural and religious grievances that would be suffered if the TMT were erected on the mountain, which is sacred to many native Hawai’ians.

In the new order, the Board has attempted to bridge the divide. It has placed “43 conditions on the permit, including a previously negotiated plan requiring the University of Hawaii to decommission three existing telescopes atop Mauna Kea, where the TMT is to be built, and barring any future telescopes on the mountain,” Ilima Loomis reports for Science Magazine.

Nevertheless, the preface of the order strikes a rather defensive tone when talking of cultural significance.

“Some groups perform ceremonies near the summit,” the Board writes. “The evidence shows that these ceremonies began after the summit access road and first telescopes were built, but, in any case, the TMT will not interfere with them[…] The site is not on the summit ridge, which is more visible, and, according to most evidence presented, more culturally important than the plateau 500 feet lower where TMT will be built.”

Although the chair of the Board, Suzanne Case, is quoted as saying that “this was one of the most difficult decisions this Board has ever made,” opponents don’t feel like their opinions were ever seriously considered.

“They did not deliberate. They did not properly consider or take into account the evidence,” anti-TMT activist Kealoha Pisciotta tells Science Magazine. Pisciotta’s group, Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, has already filed a motion in a state court asking for a stay.

WATCH: Miles reports on TMT science and cultural implications, including a fascinating profile of Kealoha Pisciotta, for the PBS NewsHour last year.

Banner image courtesy TMT International Observatory.


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Fedor Kossakovski is a production assistant for Miles O'Brien Productions.