Update on Mauna Kea

From Salman Hameed of Irtiqa:

For the past couple of years, we have been following the controversy over telescopes on Mauna Kea. This dispute has come to a head over the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope. This is a tough, tough issue. Astronomy, culture, and environmentalism meet at 14,000 feet—and leave almost no one happy. The TMT folks did learn from the past mistakes of astronomers, and I think, overall, they did a good job of reaching out to the local Hawaiian community. But it is also true that, for some, any new construction will be a further sacrilege—let alone the construction of one of the largest ever optical telescopes. Although astronomers had nothing to do with it, all of these issues are further complicated by the messy history of how the United States took over Hawaii in the late 19th century, and the early treatment of native Hawaiians.

This past week, the Board of Land and Natural Resources unanimously approved the 1.3 billion dollar project. This approval was widely expected. But the board also left room for one more hearing by the opponents of the telescope. I don’t think anything will change with another hearing. Everyone is set with their views and the TMT has, overall, followed the procedures well. I think this will be a spectacular telescope (it is expected to begin its construction in 2012). At the same time, I also hope that astronomers appreciate and recognize the historical and cultural context of the arguments of the telescope opponents.

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