Construction of the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is set to resume on 15 July in Hawaii after a four-year delay. The project has faced legal challenges and protests over its plans to build the mega-telescope atop Mauna Kea, a mountain that is sacred to Native Hawaiians.
With a major court battle now behind the project, “the day for construction to begin has arrived”, said David Ige, governor of the state of Hawaii, on 10 July.
Astronomers have designed the TMT to be among the next generation of ground-based observatories, joining two other enormous telescopes, both of which are under construction in Chile. TMT officials have previously estimated the project’s cost at US$1.4 billion, but that number has almost certainly risen given the delays.
The first attempt to build the TMT, in April 2015, was almost immediately halted by protestors who say that building the telescope on Mauna Kea would further desecrate the mountain, which is already home to 13 astronomical observatories. In late 2015, the Hawaii supreme court revoked the TMT’s construction permit, sending the project back to Hawaii’s Board of Land and Natural Resources for a second permit process and more public hearings.
Unsure whether they could build in Hawaii, project leaders began considering an alternate site in the Canary Islands. But in October 2018, the state supreme court ruled that the telescope’s second construction permit was valid, opening the way for work to restart on Mauna Kea.
One set of opponents filed another challenge this week in a lower court in Hawaii, saying the state has not acquired a security bond as financial protection in case something goes wrong during construction.
Another of the opponent groups, the Hawaii Unity and Liberation Institute, issued a 10 July statement that “we will forever fight the TMT…we are prepared for intense and lengthy struggles but stand firm in kapu aloha — peace and nonviolence”.
The access road that leads up Mauna Kea, which was the site of many of the 2015 protests, will be closed starting on 15 July.