The Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources has reportedly granted a permit to the University of Hawaii at Hilo for the construction of the $1.3 billion Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). The telescope will be built atop Mauna Kea and will be one of the largest telescopes in the world, according to the university.
The TMT has been in development for over a decade, but the large amount of land needed for its construction raised concerns over the environmental and cultural impact of such a project. Now, however, the land board has rendered a final decision, saying that the university had satisfied the eight criteria necessary under Hawaiian state law to allow the venture to go forward.
The giant TMT will be an optical and infrared telescope with enough coverage area and sharpness to observe light from 13 billion years ago, track extrasolar planets, and observe planets and stars in their early formative years.
According to University of Hawaii officials, the land board’s decision “marked another important step forward for the future of astronomical discovery and economic opportunity on Hawaii Island.”
“It’s a billion-dollar project. It’s going to affect businesses, bring in a lot of grant money, researchers and astronomers,” Jerry Chang, UH-Hilo’s director of university relations, told Pacific Business News.
Challenges to the land board’s grant of the permit for the TMT came from organizations and individuals concerned over the environmental effects of the telescope on the surrounding region. In its decision, however, the board said that enormous telescope would serve as a benefit to the public, creating as many as 140 full-time jobs.
The board’s decision also mandated that certain conditions attach to the permit. The TMT will be required to pay a “substantial” amount in rent, which will be used for the management of Mauna Kea. It also must pay $1 million a year for a “community benefits package,” to be administered by the Hawaii Island New Knowledge Fund’s board of advisors. In addition, the telescope’s employees must take cultural and natural resources training and will be required to work with the Imiloa Astronomy Center and the Office of Mauna Kea to develop exhibits for visitors about the natural, cultural and archaeological resources at Mauna Kea.
According to the a statement released by the university, the TMT will now seek final approval of its construction plans by Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), before moving on to negotiate a sublease with the University of Hawaii. TMT intends to begin preparing the ground for construction on Mauna Kea before the end of the year. The construction start date is slated for April, 2014.
The TMT is made possible through a partnership by a number of governments and research universities. These include the University of California, the California Institute of Technology, the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy, and the governments of the United States, China, India, Japan, and Canada.