Thirty Meter Telescope case in judge’s hands

HILO (AP) — The time has come for former Circuit Judge Riki May Amano to weigh the facts and make her recommendation on the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.
Tuesday marked the deadline for responses to the final arguments submitted two weeks ago by the hearing’s parties.
There is no deadline for when Amano must submit her recommendation to the state Board of Land and Natural Resources. But Thirty Meter Telescope officials hope it’s soon, as they intend to start construction by April, and the case is almost certain to be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
The proposed astronomical observatory has become a source of controversy over its planned location on Mauna Kea, which is land claimed to be sacred to Native Hawaiians.
Canadian scientists have issued a report critical of the alternative site of the telescope in the Canary Islands and are urging the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory board not to give up on Mauna Kea.
The report, which was discussed last week during a meeting of Canadian astronomers, says Mauna Kea’s taller summit and superior viewing characteristics give the $1.4 billion project the best opportunity to be scientifically competitive with other next-generation telescopes under development.
Canada has committed $243 million to the Thirty Meter Telescope project as a partner with Japan, China and India plus a U.S.-based consortium made up of the University of California and the California Institute of Technology.
“We are all hopeful that construction can occur on Mauna Kea and that the project is welcomed and respectful of the various interests on the mountain,” said Michael Balogh, a professor of physics and astronomy at Canada’s University of Waterloo.
Balogh is chairman of a joint committee of the Canadian Astronomical Society and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy that formed to take a closer look at the issues surrounding the Thirty Meter Telescope’s location.
Mauna Kea offers “significant competitive advantages” to the Thirty Meter Telescope’s strongest astronomical challenger, the 39-meter European Extremely Large Telescope planned for a mountain in Chile, according to the report.
“Therefore the site on Mauna Kea should not be given up prematurely,” the report said. “The decision to move to (La Palma in Spain’s Canary Islands) should only be made once it is clear that construction on Mauna Kea will delay the project significantly relative to ELT, or fail to attract the necessary funding. As both the realistic timeline for ELT and the funding opportunities for TMT remain uncertain, we should proceed with caution.”
After Amano makes her recommendation, the contested case parties will get the opportunity to agree or disagree with her findings and file any argument with the board, which will hold a hearing and make the ultimate decision on the project’s conservation district use permit.