Decision on future of Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii delayed

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The future of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea remains uncertain after project officials delayed a crucial decision this week.

On Friday morning, TMT officials issued the following statement:

The TMT International Observatory (TIO) Board of Governors at its meeting this week deferred a decision on whether to continue towards building the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii, or to consider the alternative in the Canary Islands.

A decision will be made on the planned location of the Thirty Meter Telescope as further progress is made in the legal and regulatory processes at both proposed sites.

While TMT had said April was its deadline to make a decision, it now has no deadline.

"We've been very careful to follow the process that we started ten years ago and are still at it so I think we are committed to following the process and clearly we were not able to finish the process by this month," said Ed Stone, Executive Director of the TMT International Observatory (TIO).

There are two appeals before the Hawaii Supreme Court. The Board of Land and Natural Resources voted last fall to reissue a permit that would allow construction of the telescope on Mauna Kea despite heated debate from Native Hawaiian advocates and other opponents.

Officials say the matter has been appealed before the Hawaii Supreme Court and legal briefs have been filed.

Oral arguments over a consent to sublease took place in a separate appeal in March.

"It's really good for us to finally hear that TMT says it's going to wait for the court and wait for that legal process so I'm thankful for that," said Kealoha Pisciotta of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou.

"We're pleased with TMT's decision, but to echo UH leadership, it's a privilege for us to practice astronomy on Mauna Kea and we're not satisfied with where we're at and will continue to push ourselves to improve our stewardship of the mauna," UH spokesperson Dan Meisenzahl said.

Earlier this week, the state Senate voted to approve a bill that would've stopped construction completely if the University of Hawaii doesn't meet certain requirements.

Read more here: Senate votes to approve bill that some say could 'spell the end' of TMT

Opponents, TMT developers and the state House, meanwhile, have all agreed its best to wait for the court while the state senate pushes the legislation.

"Anything further like a construction moratorium would be a major setback for building TMT on Mauna Kea," said Stone.

In 2007, the Keystone Center compiled an assessment that warned TMT about the "serious risks to its proposed schedule" because of the "gates, hurdles, and tripwires that a potential project will need to pass through."

The report also said supporters must be "extremely patient and pay a premium in social, political, and legal transaction costs."

"So they know they are moving ahead knowing that they've been warned in a lot of different ways," said Pisciotta.

Telescope parts are currently being manufactured in the United States, Canada, Japan, India and China as Hawaii and the international community waits for word on where TMT will ultimately end up

Officials say plans for construction at the alternative site in the Canary Islands are also in the works.

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