by André Coleman and Kevin Uhrich
A retired judge overseeing a case involving construction of a massive telescope atop a sacred mountain in Hawaii has ruled that a building permit should be granted.
Retired Circuit Judge Riki May Amano made the decision on July 26. The $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project is 18 stories high, making it the largest telescope in the world — including the 14 other telescopes already built on Mauna Kea.
However, Amano’s 300-page ruling is not the final word on the contentious issue. The judge’s ruling will now go before the powerful Board of Land and Natural Resources for a vote.
Meanwhile, officials with TMT — with ties to Caltech and its corporate headquarters located in Pasadena — are making alternative plans in case the land board votes against granting a permit.
Telescope officials have said they would build on the Canary Islands, located off the Atlantic Coast of Spain, if they cannot build in Hawaii. If the land board gives the go-ahead, the nonprofit international partnership wants to resume construction next year. Telescope officials say Mauna Kea is the best location in the world because its high summit provides a clear view of the sky 300 days a year.
Native Hawaiian groups have long opposed building the telescope on the sacred mountain and have held several rallies to stop the project. Locals have blocked construction vehicles from entering the site on three separate occasions since late 2014.
Hawaiian Gov. David Ige said his office was reviewing the conditions Amano placed on her recommendations, including mandates that call for cultural and natural resources training, and that employment opportunities be filled locally “to the greatest extent possible.”
“Regardless of the [land board’s] ultimate decision, I support the co-existence of astronomy and culture on Mauna Kea, along with better management of the mountain,” Ige said in a prepared statement.
The state land board will set a deadline for telescope applicants and opponents to file arguments for and against Judge Amano’s recommendations. A hearing will then be held, after which the board will decide whether to grant TMT a permit.
“They still have to go before the board,” said Kealoha Pisciotta, a leader in the fight against TMT. “We still have the right of appeal before anyone can even begin to contemplate any action or Earth moving on Mauna Kea.”