TMT hearing begins Friday

Oral arguments begin Friday in the case of six petitioners challenging the state’s decision to grant a permit for the construction of one of the world’s largest telescopes on Mauna Kea.

“We trust the system and pray for justice,” said Kealoha Pisciotta, president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, an organization of Native Hawaiians and one of the challengers of the Thirty Meter Telescope project.

Sandra Dawson, spokeswoman for the California-based TMT project, is optimistic, as well.

“If the judge rules in our favor and they appeal again, without an injunction, we could still move forward,” she said.

Dawson said plans are in the works to start construction in the second quarter of 2014, pending a final decision of the TMT board of directors and a sublease granted by the University of Hawaii.

“We have technically given them a right of entry to do ground studies,” said Jerry Chang, director of university relations for the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

The TMT project formed in 2003. The $1.3 billion initiative is supported by observatories and universities from Canada, Japan, China, India and the United States. The telescope is projected to begin operations in 2022, and was anticipated to be the world’s largest optical telescope, with a primary mirror approximately 30 meters in diameter. Planning is currently underway for a telescope with a 39-meter mirror, the European Extremely Large Telescope, to be built in Chile.

According to information provided by Dawson, TMT will be able to observe planets that orbit stars other than the sun and enable astronomers to watch new planets and stars being formed.

But to Pisciotta and her fellow petitioners, the development of the telescope on a “spiritual and historic site” is of concern and “the state has a duty to protect those rights.”

The footprint of the TMT Observatory dome, associated areas, and the area disturbed during construction is expected to be around 5 acres.

Dawson previously told Stephens Media Hawaii the telescope would be located on a plateau 500 feet below the other observatories and would be viewable from about 14 percent of the island.

Pisciotta said they intend to fight the issue.

“If the judge rules in their favor we will appeal. We’re prepared to go to the Supreme Court,” she said.

Signatories of the TMT agreement include the Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy Institutional Council; California Institute of Astrophysics; National Astronomical Observatories of China; and the University of California.

Oral arguments will begin at 9 a.m. Friday at the 3rd Circuit Court in Hilo.

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