Hawaiian Court Halts Construction Of Thirty-Meter Telescope On Mauna Kea

Don't build it on the mountain

Mauna Kea Telescopes

Mauna Kea Telescopes

Matt Biddulph/Flickr CC by SA 2.0

Since Mauna Kea was selected as the location for the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT) in 2009, the project has been dogged with controversy. Mauna Kea is a sacred place in Hawaiian culture, and though many other telescopes are already situated atop the mountain, the building of yet another huge structure atop a holy place was too much for activists.

Protests at the building site halted construction starting in April of this year, cyberattacks targeted the TMT's website, and activist groups challenged the project in Hawaiian courts. Now those courts have reached a decision. In a decision announced yesterday, the court determined that the board issuing the construction permit had done so improperly, issuing the permit before opponents could bring forth their side of the case.

In a concurring opinion Justice Richard Pollack wrote:

"The Board of Land and Natural Resources (Board) issued the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo (UH) a permit to construct a 180-foot high astronomical observatory within a conservation district on Mauna Kea over the objections of Native Hawaiians and others, who sought a contested case hearing to fully assess the effects of the project prior to making a decision of whether to issue the permit. Instead, the Board approved the permit but included a condition that, if a contested case proceeding was initiated, then construction could not commence until the Board conducted such a hearing. The Board’s procedure of holding a contested case hearing after the permit has already been issued does not comply with our case law...nor with due process under the Hawaiʻi Constitution"

The court's ruling revokes the construction permit, halting the building process.

Henry Yang, chair of the board of theThirty-Meter Telescope issued this statement: "We thank the Hawaii Supreme Court for the timely ruling and we respect their decision. TMT will follow the process set forth by the state, as we always have. We are assessing our next steps on the way forward. We appreciate and thank the people of Hawaii and our supporters from these last eight-plus years."

With a 98-foot-wide mirror, TMT would have been the largest telescope in the world upon its completion, but only for a time. Other huge projects like the Giant Magellan Telescope with an 85-foot-wide mirror, and the European Extremely Large Telescope, with a 129-foot-wide mirror, are still on track in less contentious settings.