HILO (AP) - A consortium hoping to build a new optical telescope on Mauna Kea's summit tentatively plans to break ground in October.
Thirty Meter Telescope spokeswoman Sandra Dawson told a panel discussion in Hilo on Thursday that major construction could begin next spring. This would put the $1.3 billion telescope on track to begin operations in 2022, the Hawaii Tribune Herald reported.
Whether ground breaks in October will depend on the outcome of Board of Land and Natural Resources hearings about the sublease the University of Hawaii wants to award for the telescope site.
Telescope opponents have questioned whether appraisals of the land were done appropriately and whether Native Hawaiians were properly consulted. They say building the telescope on Hawaii's tallest peak would desecrate a place held sacred by Native Hawaiians.
The hearings could take as long as a year.
Dawson told the panel, which was discussing expanding the astronomy-related workforce on the Big Island, that the telescope would provide 120 to 140 jobs. Many of the workers will be engineers or working with information technology, she said.
Panelists noted the need to develop a local workforce to fill those jobs as well as positions at existing observatories.
"There are a lot of great jobs here filled with competent people," said Jim Kennedy, vice chairman of the Hawaii County Workforce Investment Board.
The Thirty Meter Telescope's 30-meter, or 98-foot, primary mirror would make it bigger than any optical telescope being used today. But astronomers in Chile are building a telescope that will be bigger. The European Extremely Large Telescope will have a 39-meter, or 128-foot, mirror.