TMT board defers decision on project location

  • An artist's rendering of the Thirty Meter Telescope

TMT International Observatory says it has deferred a decision on whether to stick with Maunakea as the site of its next-generation observatory or build instead at a backup location in Spain’s Canary Islands.

The California-based organization said in a news release that a decision on the planned location of the Thirty Meter Telescope will occur as progress is made in the legal and regulatory processes at both sites. A new timeline wasn’t provided.

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“TMT is grateful that the legal process is moving forward in Hawaii and we remain hopeful of court decision that will allow us to resume construction on Maunakea,” TIO Board Chairman Henry Yang said in a statement. “We remain respectful of and will continue to follow the legal and regulatory processes.”

In Hawaii, the $1.4 billion project faces two appeals that are before the state Supreme Court. One applies to the land use permit that the state Land Board reissued last fall. Legal briefs have been filed.

Another appeal pertains to whether a contested case should be required for the project’s sublease with the University of Hawaii for about 6 acres on Maunakea. Oral arguments occurred in March.

Meanwhile, TIO says an environmental impact assessment for a proposed site on La Palma in the Canary Islands has been submitted. Once accepted, the project will apply for permits and other clearances, it said.

Ed Stone, TIO executive director, said Maunakea remains the preferred choice.

The international partnership announced it selected La Palma as a backup site in October 2016 following delays due to protests on Maunakea and legal challenges.

Some Native Hawaiians consider Maunakea sacred, and opponents say the mountain is already overdeveloped. TMT’s permit for the mountain requires UH to remove several other telescopes.

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Approval of the project is being considered as UH seeks a new master lease for the Maunakea Science Reserve, which ends in 2033.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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