It has received permission to build in Hawaii, but the decision is not final. The island of La Palma is the second option and has already established important agreements with the organizers of the instrument
The judicial soap opera of the Thirty-meter Telescope (TMT) is still open. This large scientific project, about 1.2 billion euros, aims to install in Hawaii the largest telescope in the Northern Hemisphere, but was met with opposition from the island community, who considered that the land where it will be built the instrument is sacred and laws must protect their culture. As a result, the permits needed to build the telescope were blocked and the project ran aground in a long judicial labyrinth. In response, the project managers, a consortium made up of representatives from Canada, Japan, China, India, Caltech and the University of California, designated the island of La Palma in the Canaries as the second option, while continuing to work in Hawaii as their preferred proposal.
This Thursday took another step in the judicial path undertaken in the United States. The Hawaii State Land and Natural Resources Panel (BLNR) approved the construction permit for the telescope in Manua Kea, Hawaii, after retired Judge Riki May Amano issued a favorable 305 page report recommending the construction of the telescope if 43 measures were taken to respect the cultural heritage of Mauna Kea, including dismantling three telescopes (out of 13 there) and not building any other instrument on the mountain.
Despite this decision, the telescope is not necessarily closer to Hawaii. TMT detractors have already said on Sciencemag.org that they will appeal the panel’s decision. According to Kealoha Pisciotta, plaintiff in opposition to TMT’s permit, the panel has made a premeditated decision: “They did not deliberate. They did not take the evidence adequately into account. ” Should they appeal, the case will reach the Supreme Court of the state, whose decisions in the case have taken months to arrive.
In addition, the TMT International Observatory itself (the NGO promoting the telescope project) acknowledges in a statement that the TMT needs a separate permit other than the construction permit: the consent of the University of Hawaii to sublet the land. The processing of this permit will also reach the Land and Natural Resources Panel of the State of Hawaii, after a process that in the case of the construction permit has taken five months. And then, again, it could be appealed to the Supreme Court, which could lead to the approval being delayed a considerable time.
At the same time TMT Executive Director Ed Stone has already announced that they will decide on where the telescope will be placed in April 2018. And that, in case the TMT does not have a green light to be built in Hawaii, will take you to La Palma, in the Canaries.
Already on 11 September, the highest representatives of the Island Council of La Palma, the municipality of Puntagorda, the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands (IAC) and the TMT International Observatory signed a collaboration agreement that includes the common will of the parties involved to help implement the scientific project on the island of La Palma, as explained by the IAC in a statement.
In this sense, the Director of the IAC, Rafael Rebolo, insisted that “TMT will be an enormously powerful installation that will improve the human knowledge of Astronomy and the origins of the Universe”. Representing TMT, Dr. Baruch Thomas Soifer, said that “La Palma is the best alternative to install TMT, the most advanced and powerful optical telescope on Earth.” In addition, he emphasized that his intention would be to develop TMT as part of the community, and trying to “contribute to its economic, social and cultural growth”.
In fact, the agreement signed between the Canary Islands and the organizers of the TMT contemplates supporting an astronomical and cultural park project, supporting stellar observation initiatives as well as cultural activities and patronage to benefit the local community. Priority is given to recruiting staff from the northwest region of La Palma for the construction and operation phase of the TMT and collaborating in a scholarship system to facilitate the study of young people, among others things.