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Along with jobs, funding and education, TMT brings more conflict over Mauna Kea


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POSTED: Wednesday, July 22, 2009

While the $1.2 billion Thirty Meter Telescope is expected to bring an economic windfall to Hawaii island, it also draws concerns from native Hawaiians and environmentalists.

The project is expected to create 140 permanent jobs as well as 300 construction jobs through several years.

It also comes with a $1 million-a-year community benefit package for community education programs during the life of the telescope.

“;It's a tremendous opportunity on so many fronts, fulfilling education and job opportunities for our children and the future,”; said Jacqui Hoover, executive director of the Hawaii Island Economic Development Board. “;More importantly, it solidifies once and for all that Hawaiian culture and 21st-century science can coexist.”;

The TMT, however, has a long road ahead of it.

Before construction can begin, the telescope must receive a conservation district use permit from the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.

A lease for the site also has yet to be negotiated.

A draft environmental impact statement was published in May, but TMT must now turn in a final one.

The telescope, ensconced within a 180-foot-tall dome, would be built in several phases, with an access road, midlevel facility, headquarters at the University of Hawaii-Hilo and a possible satellite office in Waimea.

While many community members supported bringing the telescope to Mauna Kea, opposition also came from native Hawaiians who said it does not belong on the sacred mountain.

KAHEA, a nonprofit, says the telescope would require leveling the last pristine plateau on the mountaintop.

In 2004 the group took legal action against UH and NASA over a permit for a Keck Outrigger Telescope that consequently was never built. As a result of that lawsuit, TMT must now finish a comprehensive management plan approved by the state Land Board for a permit.

The Sierra Club supports the telescope—in Chile, not on Mauna Kea, said Big Island chapter spokesman Nelson Ho.

“;Mauna Kea is just too badly managed by the university and by DLNR,”; said Ho. “;It would double the amount of damage that's already up there.”;

The mountain is home to endemic species, including the wekiu bug, endangered birds such as the palila (Hawaiian honeycreeper) and a rare plant, the Mauna Kea silversword, or ahinahina.

Henry Yang, TMT board chairman, said it is committed to respecting the history and cultural significance of Mauna Kea but is determined to forge forward after a years-long selection process.

“;By deciding to build on Mauna Kea, the TMT board has given a clear signal that we are ready to move forward and begin building in earnest as soon as all the necessary approvals are in place,”; said Yang.

The board deliberated on the two sites, weighing in mostly scientific factors.

Richard Ha, a farmer on the Hamakua Coast, was exhilarated to hear the news.

“;It makes the whole island feel uplifted,”; said Ha. “;They're coming here, and all the money is coming into our economy for jobs, but more than that, the opportunity for education is enormous.”;