Mauna Kea is a significant place for Hawaiians. Not just because it’s the potential home of the Thirty Meter Telescope, but rather for the cultural value that the volcano holds. In March, construction began on the Thirty Meter Telescope, which was originally approved for construction by officials in 2009. While the project has been many years in the making – much of the progress could be unraveled in the coming weeks – as construction has been halted, and some support for the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope has been withdrawn.
Opposition of the Thirty Meter Telescope has been loud and clear for years now. Protesters recently blocked a roadway that led to the construction site, which was their most-aggressive move to date. However, the cause that the opposition carries with them is quite valid. Those who oppose the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope don’t just believe that it will have a negative impact on the culture and history of Mauna Kea, and Hawaii as a whole. They also believe that the process by which the Thirty Meter Telescope earned its permits to build was flawed.
The process in question is related to a list of criteria that are required to be met, in order to gain permits to start this type of work on Mauna Kea. Members of opposition highlighted these areas of concern in a letter to the Governor of Hawaii. It argues that those behind the project did not prove that the Thirty Meter Telescope “will not cause substantial adverse impact to existing natural resources within the surrounding area.”
They also pointed out that it wasn’t made clear that the Thirty Meter Telescope would avoid compromising “existing physical and environmental aspects of the land.” Finally, they ended pointed out the lack of material facts in understanding what the public health impact might be saying the Thirty Meter Telescope could be “materially detrimental to the public health.”
Now though, Trustees for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs have voted to rescind previously offered support for the Thirty Meter Telescope project, which was set to start in March and end in 2024 tentatively. The potential good though that a telescope of this magnitude could do is what scientists and researchers say make it worth it. The summit of Mauna Kea is the ideal location for this massive telescope, which would be the 14th largest in the world. The air is dry and clean, and it has unobstructed views on all sides.
Michael Bolt, who is the Associate Director for the Thirty Meter Telescope pointed out that, “It will be able to travel all the way through space and time back to the very first objects that formed in the universe and to the beginning of time.”
Some have argued that opposition to the Mauna Kea location for the Thirty Meter Telescope might be persuaded to halt opposition if the project managers agree to disable and take down some of the other telescopes that exist within the Mauna Kea region. However, it remains to be seen whether either party will make a move like that or be the first to offer their hand in agreement.
Both sides are very passionate about what they believe would be better for both the region and humanity, and it’s hard to pick a side without understanding the scope of the project and how many people will truly be impacted by the Thirty Meter Telescope. Either way, it does prove that massive projects like this, which in this instance cost $1.4 billion, need new processes actually to obtain their permitting and maintain the integrity of both sides – without favoring one side more heavily.