(BIVN) – The Thirty Meter Telescope’s plan to engage the U.S. National Science Foundation as a means to move forward with the observatory project planned for Maunakea was discussed by University of California Regents today.
A portion of the UC Regents meeting, held via videoconference amid the COVID-19 pandemic, was devoted to an update on the TMT project, of which the University of California system is a part.
After considerable delays to the project due to passionate opposition, TMT is looking to a future that may involve the NSF.
TMT associate director Michael Bolte told the UC regents that a proposal has been submitted to the NSF “that could lead to a possible partnership with the TMT as part of a two-observatory, two-hemisphere system,” that include the Giant Magellan Telescope in the Southern Hemisphere.
The U.S. Extremely Large Telescope Program, or US-ELTP, is detailed on the TMT website.
Bolte said the proposal will start a Federal National Environmental Policy Act Environmental Impact Statement and National Historic Preservation Act Section 106 cultural consultation process for Hawaiʻi, as well as an equivalent process for the project’s backup site at La Palma.
“These processes will include outreach and evaluation of the issues around TMT and Maunakea,” a TMT slide presentation stated, “and provide a renewed opportunity to seek solutions that are widely acceptable.”
TMT project representatives said they will be seeking an additional $1 billion from the NSF.
Members of the Maunakea Hui opposed to the TMT project also participated in the UC regents videoconference meeting. Kealoha Pisciotta said that the federal funding is not the only trigger for a NEPA EIS and Section 106 consultation, but also that Maunakea is a historic district that native Hawaiians attach cultural and religious significance to. “It is our origin place and it is a place where our connection to creation begins,” Pisciotta told the regents. She said the federal consultation has been required since day one of the project.
The proposal to the NSF means a further delay in construction. “We’re largely now being driven by the NSF and their processes,” Bolte said. “The engagement of the NSF really is an opportunity to do a restart in Hawaiʻi,” he added.
The NSF processes have not formally started. It was said during the regents meeting that those processes normally take 18 to 24 months.
Meanwhile, Bolte said, “the TMT project has already announced that no construction will take place at either site – Maunakea or La Palma – this year.”
Bolte added that the UC stance on the TMT International Observatory board is that no construction will be initiated anywhere until the decadal survey recommendation is announced in the spring of 2021.
This is part one of a planned three video series. Part two will focus on the UC Regents discussion comparing the proposed site on Maunakea to an alternative site in the Canary Islands. Part three will feature the discussion on moving forward with the proposal in Hawaiʻi, and the opposition that TMT faces.