Hawaii court revokes permit for telescope project on volcano

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 03, 2015 3:58 PM

(Reuters) - The Hawaii Supreme Court on Wednesday revoked a permit that would have allowed the controversial construction of one of the world's largest telescopes on a dormant volcano considered an ideal location on Earth to view the stars.

Issuing the permit to construct a 180-foot high, $1.4 billion astronomical observatory on the Mauna Kea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island did not comply with case law, statutes or the state constitution, court documents showed. It also violated the protections of native Hawaiian customs and traditions.

Astronomers consider the volcano one of the world's best places to view the cosmos given its distance from man-made lights and high altitude. The project won approval from state officials in 2013, but debate surrounding it was contentious.

In November, the court temporarily blocked construction of the telescope, a collaboration between China, India, Canada, Japan and the United States, after a challenge by Native Hawaiians and environmentalists who said the project would damage sacred lands.

"Even as far back as the days of the Hawaiian Kingdom, protections have been in place to ensure the continued exercise of traditional Hawaiian rights amidst the pressures exerted by countervailing interests of a changing society," the court said in its opinion issued on Thursday.

The November order followed an announcement by TMT International Observatory, the scientific team behind the Thirty Meter Telescope project, that site preparation work would begin that month.

For months protesters had gathered at the volcano in an attempt to block construction.

"We're thrilled. The opinion was really well considered," said Bianca Isaki, a board member of KAHEA the Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, which has protested the construction of the project.

Henry Yang, board chair of TMT International Observatory, said in a statement that they respect the court's decision.

"TMT will follow the process set forth by the state, as we always have. We are assessing our next steps on the way forward," Yang said.

(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Alan Crosby)