Wednesday | November 22, 2017
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TMT clears procedural hurdle

The scientific institutions supporting the Thirty Meter Telescope have signed a master agreement for the $1.3 billion observatory scheduled to be built on Mauna Kea beginning next year.

The agreement, signed by partners in five countries Thursday, establishes project goals, defines members’ rights and obligations, and creates a governance structure for the project.

It’s the last procedural step the partnering organizations will take before seeking funding from their own governments or universities.

Sandra Dawson, Hawaii community affairs manager for the project, said she doesn’t expect that to be difficult, even with the high price tag, noting the formal agreement helps seal their commitment.

“We’re very optimistic and confident that we’ll be able to start (construction) April 1,” she said.

Construction for the state-of-the-art telescope, to be the world’s largest, is expected to take eight years.

Manufacturing of equipment is already underway, Dawson said.

Negotiations are ongoing for a sublease with the University of Hawaii, and a geotechnical study will be done in August, she said.

Design of the telescope is also nearly complete.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources issued a permit for the project in April after a lengthy contested case hearing. That is being appealed by opponents of the telescope, who are concerned about impacts to cultural and natural resources on the sacred mountain.

That appeal is being handled in 3rd Circuit Court.

A hearing will be held in December, Dawson said.

She expects the permit to be upheld.

“We’re confident we have addressed all of the issues,” Dawson said.

She said the telescope would be located on a plateau 500 feet below the other observatories.

It would be viewable from about 14 percent of the island, mainly from Honokaa through Kohala, Dawson said.

The signing of the agreement Thursday occurred during the first TMT board meeting in Hawaii.

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

Email Tom Callis at