UH says TMT will be last site, plans to decommission telescopes


Big promises from the University of Hawaii over the Thirty Meter Telescope, which started construction atop Mauna Kea then stalled amidst mounting concerns with the project.

The university, which manages observatory activity on the mountain, says this will be the last site for the area.

In the years to come, the university also plans to shut down, or decommission, some of the 13 observatories already on the mountain.

“This is the last new site that will be developed,” said Gunther Hasinger, director of the university’s Institute of Astronomy. “We have made a promise that in the long run, there will be fewer telescopes on the mountain, so we will see some of them go away.”

Hasinger said there are plans to recycle some facilities and put new telescopes on those existing sites.

In the past, all the state got from the telescopes now on Mauna Kea was free access to viewing time. The state collected no money, not even rent.

“But for us, that is not the central point,” said Hasinger. “It is the creation of knowledge.”

That will not be the case with the Thirty Meter Telescope.

According to the lease rent schedule, the project last year cut the first check to the state, $300,000, with most of the money going to help manage the conservation land where the telescope will sit on Mauna Kea. Some of the money will also go to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

The rent will eventually climb to $1 million a year.

The project also promises to donate $1 million to schools and non-profits on the Big Island to promote the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program (STEM).

Another $1 million a year will go to a workforce training program for those interested in a job either with the Thirty Meter Telescope or a career in science.

Sandra Dawson, the project’s community affairs manager, told KHON2 she was saddened and disappointed by the protests over the project.

Dawson said project developers spent seven years listening to the community before going out for construction last month.

“We have been out in the community,” said Dawson. “I want people to understand that this is not somebody bullying to get our way. We’ve been through the process very carefully and very respectfully.”

Hasinger told KHON2 the TMT will have no impact on the water supply and addressed the worry over the way the project will go about building the foundation.

The telescope structure will stand 16 stories high with an additional two stories underground.

“No, there will be no dynamite used there,” said Hasinger. “There will be grading with big machines, but there will be no dynamite for the construction.”

Last Saturday, Gov. David Ige announced TMT’s decision to extend the moratorium on construction until April 20.

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