HILO, Hawaii: A throng of demonstrators – both for and against the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope – made their feelings known outside Hilo’s county building on Tuesday morning, where a special hearing was about to be conducted by the Board of Land and Natural Resources.
Local labor unions joined the chamber of commerce, making a stand in favor of the project.
On the other side of the fence, environmentalists and native Hawaiin groups, unified in their mission to protect Mauna Kea, where the proposed observatory would be built.
The $1.3 billion Thirty Meter Telescope – called TMT for short – is expected to be the world’s most powerful ground-based telescope when it finally sees first light sometime in 2018… and it is expected to be a huge economic benefit to the Big Island.
But some say the 13,000 foot high Mauna Kea summit – an ideal location for astronomy – is already overdeveloped by the science industry. They say the 8 acre, 18 story high TMT will be too much.
The six petitioners: Deborah Ward, the Hawaiian-environmental alliance of KAHEA, Paul Neves, Clarence Ching, the group of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, and the family of Kalani Flores and Pua Case…. challenged the University of Hawaii and the multi-national scientific conglomerate during the permit process before the State board of Land and Natural Resources in early 2011… the group was even granted standing in a contested case hearing. This despite the fact that the land board – which is the state entity that is ultimatley responsible for the mountain top – already approved a Conservation District Use Permit for TMT.
After all the arguments were presented, hearing officer Paul Aoki upheld the BLNR decision on November 30th. Still, the land board decided to hold one more day of hearings in Hilo, giving the petitioners one last chance to summarize their positions.
The meeting was expected to be a mere formality… Which means the long permitting journey for the observatory is almost complete.
On Tuesday outside the county building, TMT supporters used a bullhorn to get their point across… While supporters of the petitioners utilized the pa’u drum, and hula. They were not ready to give up the fight.
Inside the chamber usually used by the County Council, the land board gave a half an hour to each of the six petitioners for their final arguments. The room was packed, and the crowd even spilled out into the hallway. At the end of their testimony, chair William Aila asked the same question of each petitioner: If the CDUP is granted, will they still visit the mountain?
It is not known when the land board will issue its final decision.
TMT representatives are not taking anything for granted.