TMT leader speaks out on construction delay, what's next for telescope

TMT leader speaks out on construction delay, what's next for telescope [10pm report]
Published: Jan. 22, 2016 at 1:28 AM HST|Updated: Jan. 22, 2016 at 1:51 PM HST
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Rendering of the Thirty Meter Telescope
Rendering of the Thirty Meter Telescope

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Leaders of the Thirty Meter Telescope haven't said much since construction atop Mauna Kea was halted last April. But for the first time, we now know how much the company had already spent before protests blocked construction.

"The delay is obviously costing us millions of dollars," said TMT Executive Director Ed Stone, a professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology. "And we have already spent $170 million in getting ready to start construction."

Stone admits the protests on Mauna Kea that began in October 2014 caught the project off-guard.

"I think we were surprised that these new voices appeared a couple of years ago that were not there during the six years of activity that he'd had talking to the community," he said. "It's very disappointing."

Six years of public hearings along with a vetting process convinced the state to grant a permit to the University of Hawaii to allow construction. But seven weeks ago, Hawaii's supreme court decided that the permit is invalid, a frustrating ruling for TMT leaders, who said there has been no direction on what to do next.

"The courts have to tell the bureau (sic) of Land and Natural Resources what the process should be, and then they have to determine what the schedule is," said Stone. "Once we have that information, then we can assess what the options are that we have to move forward."

Opponents of the $1.4 billion telescope cheered when TMT removed construction equipment from the summit last month. But Stone said it was a money issue, not due to public pressure.

"That equipment costs money monthly, and on top of that we had to have security because we had the equipment there," he said. "So in fact one we'd lost the permit, we felt it was only responsible to take the equipment down so that we weren't on a mountain where we did not have a permit to be."

Stone said telescope officials had looked at other possible sites, including one in Chile. But they remain committed to building the telescope here.

"We chose Hawaii, right? So that means we really would like to have TMT in Hawaii," he said. "There's no doubt about that."

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