An artist's conception of the TMT.

An artist's conception of the TMT.

Courtesy TMT Observatory Corporation via Wikimedia Commons

Astronomers to restart construction of controversial telescope in Hawaii

Astronomers have decided to restart construction of a controversial telescope in Hawaii that has been the subject of protests by Native Hawaiian groups. Construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the Mauna Kea volcano will resume on Wednesday, 24 June, according to a statement issued Saturday by the telescope’s governing board.

“After more than two months of consultation, education, and dialogue with many stakeholders, we humbly announce that the TMT International Observatory Board has decided to move ahead,” said Henry Yang, chair of the TMT International Observatory Board, in the statement. The move comes after Hawaii’s governor, David Ige (D), announced on 26 May a set of measures aimed at addressing the concerns of Native Hawaiian protesters who claim the mountain as sacred ground and have blocked access to the TMT construction site. It included a call to remove about one-quarter of Mauna Kea’s 13 existing telescopes and alter the management of some of the volcano’s summit. "We have not done right by a very special place and we must act immediately to change that," Ige said at the time.

In the statement, Yang states that “[w]e are now comfortable that we can be better stewards and better neighbors during our temporary and limited use of this precious land, which will allow us to explore the heavens and broaden the boundaries of science in the interest of humanity.”

Here is the rest of the 20 June statement:

“We look forward to a positive relationship with all Hawaiians, while we understand that the majority of Hawaii’s people are supporting the TMT project. We deeply respect and are mindful of those who have concerns, and yet, we hope they will permit us to proceed with this important task while reserving their right to peaceful protest.

“As done at any construction site, we plan to first investigate and assess any possible oil leakage and ensure we can provide proper maintenance of machines and equipment so they operate safely and correctly – in order to protect Maunakea and preserve the sensitive environment. We will then begin to repair and install fencing in the interest of public safety.

“As we proceed, TMT is open and willing to allow cultural practitioners in the area of the construction site to continue customary and traditional practices. Allowing this practice to continue to occur will require further dialogue and mutual agreement to work out the details in order to establish a cooperative and harmonious environment for all parties.

“In an effort to be sensitive to and observant of the Native Hawaiian host culture, we will deepen our knowledge of the cultural, ecological, and spiritual aspects of the mountain and continue to learn how to better respect and appreciate Maunakea’s important cultural areas.

“On behalf of TMT, I want to express our sincere appreciation to the people in Hawaii for their understanding and support.”