Hawaii board defers decision on $1.3B telescope


HONOLULU — Hawaii’s Board of Land and Natural Resources deferred a key decision for a $1.3 billion telescope project, saying the state needs more time to explore legal issues.

Board members voted Friday evening to defer a decision on the sublease for the Thirty Meter Telescope, which scientists want to build on the state’s highest peak.

The sublease is the last major bureaucratic hurdle for scientists hoping to start operations in 2021. The project also faces paperwork and the threat of court action by opponents.

Organizers plan to build the telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea.

The project was initiated by the University of California, California Institute of Technology and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy. Universities and institutions in China, India and Japan later signed on as partners.

The decision was deferred after board members heard several hours of public testimony.

If built, the Thirty Meter Telescope could be the largest optical telescope in the world, sporting a primary mirror that would be nearly 100 feet, or 30 meters, in diameter.

But that title could be usurped by a group of European scientists who are working on the European Extremely Large Telescope. They plan to have a mirror that is 138 feet, or 42 meters, in diameter.

The University of Hawaii leases from the state the land where the telescope would be built.

The Thirty Meter Telescope group would sublease the land from the University of Hawaii starting at $300,000 for the first year, rising gradually to about $1 million a year after a decade.

The University of Hawaii Board of Regents unanimously voted to support the project about four years ago.

Some Native Hawaiians oppose the project because they believe it would defile a summit they consider sacred.

Some environmentalists also oppose the telescope because they believe it could harm the rare wekiu bug.

 

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