TMT official says Hawaii still preferred site, despite Spanish news report

  • In this July 24, 2009, file photo, the Gran Telescopio Canarias, one of the the world's largest telescopes, is seen at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the Canary Island of La Palma, Spain. (AP Photo/Carlos Moreno)

The Thirty Meter Telescope remains committed to building on Maunakea, contrary to reports published in a Canary Islands newspaper.

In a Sunday article published by the newspaper El Dia, the largest newspaper in the Canary Islands capital of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, TMT vice president of public relations Gordon Squires and TMT head of operations Christophe Dumas were quoted as saying a final decision on where to build the telescope will be made in the coming weeks, with a construction start date expected in April 2020.

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The controversial TMT project has not been able to begin construction on Maunakea, its preferred site, because of protesters occupying the Maunakea Access Road since July. As that standoff continues, many have speculated the project might attempt to build on a secondary site identified for the project on La Palma, one of the Canary Islands in Spain.

According to the El Dia article (translated from Spanish through automatic online translation), Squires and Dumas “made it clear that the decision on the location of the telescope was going to be decided ‘in a matter of two or three weeks’ … although they recognized that it is a decision that depends ‘on the participating countries’” in the TMT consortium.

The article went on to say: “Dumas and Squires are convinced that La Palma has ‘enough possibilities’ to be the chosen place,” particularly because the only people able to access the summit of Maunakea are astronomers at the already existing telescopes.

The article also notes that, if construction does not begin on La Palma by April, then the start date would be delayed by a year to avoid inclement weather through the Atlantic summer.

Nowhere in the article were any quotations directly attributed to either Dumas or Squires, with their statements only attributed to the pair of them together.

On Tuesday, however, Squires said the article was inaccurate.

“Maunakea remains the preferred site for TMT,” he said in a statement. “We continue to follow the process to allow for TMT to be constructed at the ‘plan B’ site in La Palma should it not be possible to build in Hawaii.”

Not only has no date been determined for making a decision about a construction location, Squires said, but there is no determined time frame for when construction could begin, even if TMT was to be built on La Palma.

Nor does TMT have all of the required permits and permissions to build on La Palma, Squires said. The process for obtaining appropriate permits to build on Maunakea took the better part of a decade.

Although construction does not appear to be any closer to beginning, work on TMT systems around the world is progressing. A team in India successfully completed the telescope’s first software component last week after two years of development.

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“It is the first TMT software component to be completed and ready for shipment,” Kim Gillies, TMT lead software architect, was quoted by India Science Wire as saying. “This achievement successfully shows that working with our India-partner and India-based vendor development team, we can develop software remotely following the formal preliminary and final design reviews, while under the management of the project office.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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