Work together to ensure TMT avoids more delays

The Hawaii State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) recently renewed a construction permit to build the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the summit of Maunakea. Maunakea is well-established as the finest observing site in the world due to the altitude and stable atmosphere. The TMT would be the most powerful telescopes on Maunakea with nine times the power of the largest existing telescopes. This news is encouraging for the project supporters who make up a large majority of the population of Hawaii. They see the TMT as a scientific, economic, and educational benefit for Hawaii but the future of this project is still very uncertain.

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The Hawaii State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) recently renewed a construction permit to build the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the summit of Maunakea. Maunakea is well-established as the finest observing site in the world due to the altitude and stable atmosphere. The TMT would be the most powerful telescopes on Maunakea with nine times the power of the largest existing telescopes. This news is encouraging for the project supporters who make up a large majority of the population of Hawaii. They see the TMT as a scientific, economic, and educational benefit for Hawaii but the future of this project is still very uncertain.

There is a strong opposition from a cultural and separatist minority who are trying to stop TMT. These protesters believe that they are the judges, not the state, who will decide Maunakea’s future. They have been successful, through legal appeals and illegal protests, in delaying the project for many years. The governor has tried to find some common ground that will allow science and culture to share activities on MK. The protesters have shown no interest in sharing. They demand their way or the highway.

After all the years of frustrating delays the TMT project has set April 2018 as the date they must start construction. At the present time, there are still several obstacles the TMT project and the state must overcome in a relatively short time.

First: The site sublease must be renewed promptly. The State Supreme Court has to overturn the Hilo Circuit Court invalidation of the University of Hawaii sublease to TMT. The lower court held that the sublease required a separate contested state hearing. This is a new requirement just imposed by the court.

Second: The courts must not allow more superfluous contested hearings. There will be more appeals by the opponents to repeat all their objections that they put forward at an exhaustive contested state hearings early this year. Those objections were again briefly repeated for a meeting of the Board on Natural Land Resources. Both reviews approved the construction permit with several caveats that have been agreed to by TMT and UH.

Third: TMT has to know that their site will be protected and accessible. Even if all the legal items are overcome by next April, site access must be assured by the state. Two years ago when TMT tried to start construction, protesters overwhelmed the protective forces and stopped all activity. The same thing will happen again without some major change in allowing unlimited access to Maunakea by protestors. State leaders must develop a detailed plan to avoid the obstruction of two years ago.

It will take a strong commitment by the state to convince the TMT that they have an adequate plan to provide safe access to their site. Without this level of commitment the TMT will have no choice but to go to their alternative site at La Palma in the Canary Islands. At some point, after years of delay, they will have to give up on Maunakea even at the scientific sacrifice of accepting an inferior site. The chances of overcoming these obstacles within the next six months seem very unlikely unless they are actively worked together, by the state government.

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If the protesters succeed in further delaying TMT and denying their legal rights, it will be a failure and a disgrace for the leaders of our state. With TMT on Maunakea, Hawaii will remain the best and most productive scientific astronomical site in the world for the foreseeable future. It would be a place all people in Hawaii, who support the law and value knowledge, could be proud of.

Jerry Smith is a resident of North Kohala.