HILO, Hawaii – Thirty Meter Telescope top-executive Edward Stone took the witness stand on December 19 to testify during the TMT Contested Case hearing.
The TMT’s status as a $1.4 billion project in limbo was apparent during the cross-examination of Stone, the observatory’s Executive Director. Under questioning by opponents of the TMT who are participating in the proceeding, Stone explained how the TMT International Observatory’s (TIO) board has some hard decisions to make about whether or not to continue to pursue the ideal astronomical conditions found atop Mauna Kea, or to settle on a second site identified in the Canary Islands.
TIO is made up of Caltech, UC, the National Institutes of Natural Science of Japan, the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Canadian National Research Council and the Indian Department of Science and Technology. Major funding has been provided by the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation.
In his written testimony, Stone said TIO members have spent approximately $327 million through June 30, 2016. Already the government of Japan has initiated procurement of telescope mirror blanks in Japan, Stone wrote.
“Following the approval of a permit,” Stone wrote, “construction on the TMT Observatory at Mauna Kea is slated to begin in April 2018, with completion of the TMT enclosure and telescope structure expected in 2024 and initial operations three years later.”
However, the second contested case hearing in the permit process is still underway, and if the permit is approved by the land board again, appeals are sure to follow. Meanwhile, a recent circuit court ruling invalidated the state’s required consent to a sublease for the Mauna Kea site between the University of Hawaii and TMT. And the renewal of the university’s master lease for the Mauna Kea science reserve, where numerous other world-class observatories are situated, looms on the horizon. The lease ends in 2033.