By TOM CALLIS Hawaii Tribune-Herald
HILO — The TMT International Observatory’s decision to consider locations other than Mauna Kea for its next-generation telescope didn’t come as much of a surprise to supporters of the project, given the hurdles it still faces.
But the announcement is nonetheless increasing anxiety that Hawaii Island could lose out on the jobs and funding for education that comes with the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope.
“I think we put it in a precarious situation,” said Bill Walter, Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce vice president.
“You get the sense that the investing countries are getting very restive…”
… Ed Stone, TMT executive director, told Honolulu media outlets Wednesday that the telescope’s board decided last week to get a “Plan B” ready should the project not regain its construction permit for the mountain.
In an interview with the Tribune-Herald, he reiterated they are not pulling the plug yet, but might end up doing so if they don’t receive assurances the project can proceed by September 2017. That will allow it to begin construction again no later than April 2018.
“We would like to build it in Hawaii,” he said, noting Mauna Kea remains the best spot for the telescope. “We’re not looking for ways not to build it in Hawaii.”
Stone said the board set a deadline because they want to get the project finished while the James Webb Space Telescope is in use since they will work “synergistically” together. The project also needs a secured location to justify the investment and manufacturing of telescope parts that continues around the world, he said.
“The time has come when we need to start building it,” Stone said.
Richard Wurdeman, attorney for opponents of the telescope, said he expects there to be a “long, drawn-out process” given the environmental and cultural issues involved with building on Mauna Kea. He said that process shouldn’t be rushed…
… TMT selected Hawaii for its telescope in 2009, and the project later cleared the state Board of Land and Natural Resources and a contested case hearing.
But its plans to build on the mountain began to fall apart last year as protesters blocked access to construction workers and the state Supreme Court overturned its land use permit.
Justices ruled the Land Board should not have voted in favor of the project before opponents made their case before a hearings officer.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources is preparing to hire a new hearings officer to consider another permit for the project, but the Land Board also has to wait for the matter to get sent back from a lower court before it can proceed.
While 19 months to get the permit might seem like plenty of time, the last contested case hearing for the project took about 21 months to resolve…”