TMT moves forward on ‘Plan B’

  • In this July 24, 2009, file photo, the Gran Telescopio Canarias, one of the the world's largest telescopes is seen at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory in the Canary Island of La Palma, Spain. A leading Spanish official said Monday that the consortium pushing to build a giant telescope in Hawaii amid continued protests by locals is planning to ask for a building permit for an alternative site in Spain's Canary Islands. (AP Photo/Carlos Moreno)
  • KAHELE
  • STONE

HILO — The group behind the Thirty Meter Telescope plans to apply for a permit to build on the Canary Islands, its second choice for the project after Maunakea.

Rafael Rebolo, director for the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias, told the Associated Press Monday that he had received a letter from the head of the TMT project explaining that the project board had decided “to proceed with the request to seek a building permit” to build on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands.

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“We continue to follow the process to allow for TMT to be constructed at the ‘plan B’ site in La Palma should it not be possible to build in Hawaii,” TMT Executive Director Ed Stone said in a written statement. “This process has been ongoing since 2016. Maunakea remains the preferred site for TMT.”

Moving the project to the Canaries, which are part of Spain, has been a growing refrain among the protesters who have blocked access to Maunakea’s summit for three weeks. Leaders of the protesters — who call themselves “protectors” of the mountain, which they consider sacred — have repeatedly said they will leave Maunakea Access Road promptly if the project abandons the Maunakea site in favor of La Palma.

A statement from Gov. David Ige’s office reaffirmed his commitment to work with Mayor Harry Kim to find a peaceful solution to move the project forward. Both Ige and Kim have stated their personal support for the TMT project on Maunakea.

State Sens. Kai Kahele and Kurt Fevella visited the Maunakea Access Road Monday to show support to the protesters there.

“Spain is ready to welcome the Thirty Meter Telescope with open arms, and if you cannot solve this situation here, nothing is worth destroying the very social fabric of our community and that aloha spirit that exists in all of us,” Kahele said. “There’s no project, there’s nothing worth putting that at risk.”

Last week, Spain’s science minister Pedro Duque said Spain is prepared and eager to host the observatory.

“We have all the necessary plans at all levels — the people, the speed, the systems, absolutely everything is ready if they want to come.”

“Our mountains are not sacred,” Rebolo told the Associated Press.

However, building on La Palma might not be any less controversial than building on Maunakea.

Ben Magec: Ecologistas en Accion (Ecologists in Action), an environmental organization in the Canary Islands, declared Monday that it opposes building on La Palma for similar reasons as those of the Maunakea protesters.

“On the small island of La Palma, with a similar surface area as the island of Molokai, the development of astronomical infrastructures has been done without respect for the people and for the natural and cultural values,” Ben Magec said in a written statement. “It has cost us a notable part of our nature and we have lost archaeological sites that were very important for the understanding of the culture of our aboriginal ancestors. … Here the feeling is growing that our mountain has already exceeded the capacity to house more telescopes and that we have already paid a high price for astronomical science.

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“If they insist in getting authorization to build the TMT in this legally protected area on La Palma, each step will lead to additional legal action on our part,” the statement went on. “We have no less reason or less determination than the Hawaiian TMT opponents.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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