The University of Hawaii is fighting to keep TMT Alive. On April 28, 2021, Bonnie D. Irwin, Chancellor of the University of Hawai’i at Hilo submitted a letter to Samuel Lemmo in the Administratorʻs Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands at the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Following a review of project activities shared by Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory (TIO) with the University of Hawaiʻi, Bonnie notified the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), that work/construction on the TMT project was initiated in 2019 based on project activities in June and July of that year.
The letter was sparked in compliance with General Condition No. 4 of Conservation District Use Permit (“CDUP”) HA-3568. According to the terms of the State Board of Land and Natural Resources’ conservation district use permit issued to the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory in 2017, the construction of TMT was required to begin within two years of the issuance of the permit.
General Condition No. 4 of CDUPHA-3568 provides:
Any work done or construction to be done on the land shall be initiated within two (2) years of the approval of such use, in accordance with construction plans that have been signed by the Chairperson, and, unless otherwise authorized, shall be completed within twelve (12) years of the approval. The UH Hilo shall notify the Department in writing when construction activity is initiated and when it is completed.
Subsequent to the issuance of the Notice to Proceed, and before the September 28, 2019 initiation deadline, Bonnie stated the following Project Activity was initiated at the TMT Project site or in preparation for Project Activity to be performed at the TMT Project site:
- June 20, 2019 — Unpermitted ahu removed.
- June 25, 2019 — Goodfellow Bros, Inc. (“GBI”), the civil contractor for the TMT Project, and M3 Construction Management (“M3”), the construction manager for the TMT Project, met at the project site to test the GPS equipment, and verify the benchmark locations and coordinates with the existing site survey done by Engineering Partners. A partial survey of the Submillimeter Array (“SMA”) access road was completed for accuracy in comparison to the owner-furnished survey. Personnel from the SMA and James Clerk Maxwell radio telescopes joined the construction crew to coordinate the GPS system and verify the impact on the telescope operations. This was done to confirm on the ground boundaries of the access road and project site;
- July 8, 2019 — KickOff Meeting between TMT International Observatory, LLC (“Tb”), GBI, M3, subcontractors, and others to discuss construction procedures, safety protocols, other requirements, and special concerns;
- July 12, 2019 — GBl, M3, and SMA representatives located and surveyed the underground fiber optic and electrical lines in preparation of mobilizing the heavy equipment to the TMT project site to mitigate the risk of damaging the SMA fiber optics;
- July 15, 2019 — The Big Island Invasive Species Committee (“BIISC”) inspected TlO construction equipment and vehicles. BIISC provides invasive species compliance certificates; and
- July 16, 2019 — Tb attempted to access the TMT Project site. TIO mobilized 18 vehicles and equipment, including a 980 Loader, D6 Dozer, WA 320 Loader, and Mini-Ex/Roller. Persons objecting to the TMT Project blocked TlO’s access to the TMT Project site for several months. The above Project Activity was performed in accordance with DLNR approved construction plans
Bonnie stated “The mobilization of vehicles and equipment in July 2019 was blocked for several months by opponents of the project. The work was unable to continue due to factors beyond the control of UH and the project. Future activity has not been announced by TIO.”
Based on this statement, DLNR has confirmed that this requirement has been satisfied.
Gordon Squires, TMT vice president of external affairs, said the organization was grateful for approval of the work permit.
“We will continue to work respectfully with the Hawaii community to find a path forward that honors the culture, tradition, and environment of Hawaii while supporting humanity’s quest to expand knowledge of the Universe,” he said in a statement to Honolulu Advertiser.
“We continue to find a way forward, and will follow and respect the process as we have always done”
Based in Pasadena, Calif., the TMT International Observatory nonprofit is a coalition made up of The University of California, Caltech, and Government science agencies in Canada, Japan, China, and India
TMT project price tag has risen by a billion dollars due to construction delays, inflation, and other costs. TMT awaits a much-needed influx of cash reported as around $850,000 from a report on the recommendations of Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey (Astro 2020) which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and NASA, which will prioritize projects for future major U.S. funding. A report is expected sometime later this year.
“This seems kind of shady,” said Mauna Kea Hui leader Kealoha Pisciotta, who has led the legal fight against the TMT. “This is the kind of thing that makes people lose faith in the integrity of the process.”
Kū Kiaʻi Mauna leader Noe Noe Wong-Wilson said it appears UH and DLNR is agreeing to follow a broad definition of what it means to start construction. She said they may be setting an unwanted precedent and that the move by UH appeared to be “sketchy” and “suspect.”
“It doesn’t make sense to me, It looks like they’re conjuring up ways to satisfy the permit. They’re redefining what is construction,” Wong- Wilson said. “There were no shovels in the ground.”
As of Press Time… No further construction activity on Mauna Kea has been released by TMT.
A copy of the Letter from UH Hilo Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin can be downloaded below.