On Wednesday, Hawaii’s Supreme Court revoked building permit of Mauna Kea extremely large telescope (ELT) also known as the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). For years, the construction fueled controversy and hot debates over whether it is appropriate to build such structure on one of native Hawaiians’ most sacred places.
Judges ruled in a 58-page opinion that the panel which issued the construction permit gave the project the green light before all legal hurdles were cleared. According to the ruling, a hearing for the contested case was scheduled, but the hearing hadn’t even taken place when the permit was granted.
The TMT project was approved by the state’s Board of Land and Natural Resources. Currently, the panel needs to conduct a hearing before trying to re-issue the construction permit.
The head of the TMT International Observatory Board of Directors, which supervises the project and selected 33,000-feet-tall Mauna Kea as the best site for the telescope, thanked the high court for the ‘timely ruling’. The Board pledged to follow the latest decision and comply with state’s requirements for the matter.
The head of the board of directors Henry Yang announced that the group was planning on the next steps to make and thanked Hawaiians and state officials for their support in a eight-year-long battle to construct the second largest ELT in the world and the highest ground telescope on the planet.
The TMT is expected to be constructed on Mauna Kea, but natives consider the mountaintop a sacred place of their ancestors. Therefore, it should only be home to religious ceremonies.
Yet, project managers explained that Mauna Kea is the best place to construct the observatory because the European Southern Observatory (ESO) has plans to raise a similar ELT in the southern hemisphere.
The locations of the two observatories were carefully calculated to make sure that each telescope would be able to scrutinize the portion of the sky its counterpart does not have access to. Another site for TMT would be Mexico’s Sierra de San Pedro Mártir, but the board argued that the site is not as high as Mauna Kea.
On Mauna Kea, however, there are 13 telescopes because the University of Hawaii deemed the place a reserve for astronomy since the 1960s. But none of the telescopes there is as huge as the TMT. This is why, conservationists also expressed their concerns that the construction could represent a threat to local biodiversity on the long term.
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