[IMAGE: Protests and legal battles have halted construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii.]
Hawaii’s supreme court has ruled that the construction permit for the
Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on top of the mountain Mauna Kea is
invalid. The 2 December decision is a major blow to the international
consortium backing the US$1.5-billion telescope, and a win for the
Native Hawaiians who have protested against its construction on what they regard as a sacred summit.
Hawaii’s Board of Land and Natural Resources should not have approved
the permit in 2011, the court said, because it did so before protestors
could air their side in a contested case hearing. “Quite simply,
the Board put the cart before the horse when it issued the permit,” the
court decision reads. “Accordingly, the permit cannot stand.”
will follow the process set forth by the state, as we always have,” TMT
board chair Henry Yang said in a statement. “We are assessing our next
steps on the way forward.”
is unclear whether and how the TMT will move forward given the new
ruling. Work on the telescope’s components has continued at sites
outside Hawaii, but the court’s decision to block the construction
permit is a significant setback. To proceed, the project would have to
acquire another permit from the board.
[IMAGE: An artist’s rendering of the yet-unbuilt Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.]
Part of the planned TMT site, just below Mauna Kea’s 4,200-metre
summit, has been cleared, and construction was to have begun last April.
But those plans are on hold as protestors have blocked the roads to the
site and pursued legal avenues to halt the project.
TMT would be the Northern Hemisphere counterpart to two other
next-generation telescopes, the European Extremely Large Telescope and
the Giant Magellan Telescope, now under construction in Chile.
the TMT faces unique battles at Mauna Kea, which many Native Hawaiians
have long argued should not be desecrated by astronomical observatories.
Thirteen observatories — one with multiple telescopes — currently sit
on the mountain in a science reserve operated by the University of
Hawaii. One existing telescope is being dismantled and two others are
slated for decommissioning, after the fight over the TMT accelerated
plans to limit development on the mountain top.
Because the mountain pokes out from the middle of the Pacific Ocean,
the skies above Mauna Kea are among the clearest in the world. Some
Native Hawaiians say that the benefits to astronomy do not outweigh the
need to respect and protect the natural and cultural environment. Many
took to social media to praise the court’s decision.
partners are the University of California and the California Institute
of Technology, along with research entities from the governments of
Canada, China, India and Japan.