July 25 2019
The Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA) fully supports the Long Range Plan for Astronomy and Astrophysics (LRP), the decadal plan to sustain Canada’s world leadership in astronomy. Going back to the first LRP in 2000, Canadian participation in a very large telescope project has been the top priority of the LRP, and that project ultimately became the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). This project was conceived and designed with the active participation of Canadian astronomers and it will be one of the world’s largest and most powerful telescopes – a scientific and engineering marvel that Canadians can be proud of.
The project is now a partnership between Canada, as represented by the National Research Council; the University of California and Caltech; Japan; China; and India. The Federal Government committed $243.5 million to Canada’s share of TMT in 2015, including construction of its enclosure and development of its adaptive optics system.
After an exhaustive process, the site selected for TMT was Maunakea, a mountain in Hawaii that is already home to 10 other operational observatories From a purely scientific perspective, this is the best site in the world for such a telescope, which is also the reason other telescopes are situated there – including the national observatory of Japan. Telescopes have been situated on Maunakea since the 1970s.
For the last 10-plus years, TMT has followed the State of Hawaii’s laws, procedures and processes in its efforts to build TMT on Maunakea. For example, there were 14 community hearings during the environmental impact assessment; there were consultations with Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners for the Cultural Impact Statement – and no groups or individuals challenged the contents or process of this required document; there were well-attended public hearings with the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources; there was later a contested case before the Hawaii Circuit Court with 71 witnesses over 44 days; and so on.
Ultimately, the Hawaii Supreme Court issued an opinion upholding the permit to construct TMT on Maunakea, and in consultation with State authorities, plans were formulated for construction to begin.
Despite all legal obligations being met and the support of the majority of Native Hawaiians for TMT, efforts to start construction have been met by protests. The TMT International Observatory (TIO) and its Board of Governors respect the rights of these people to express their opinion. The main thing on which there is disagreement is whether TMT should be built – and some protesters will never support that and are now engaged in an international campaign to stir up opposition. No construction activity is taking place at the present time and the protests remain peaceful.
The protests are an internal Hawaii matter and ACURA does not plan to comment on internal Hawaiian politics. However, ACURA has expressed to the TMT partners its desire to ensure the safety of all involved and to find a path forward that recognizes the majority of Native Hawaiians support TMT construction, while respecting the concerns of those opposed. We remain hopeful this will be resolved. ACURA’s statement on the matter is as follows:
We respect the rights of everyone – both supporters and protesters – to express their opinions. Maunakea is special and the TMT project is committed to being good stewards on the mountain and inclusive of the Hawaiian community. Great care was taken to identify the best location for TMT out of respect for Maunakea’s rich ancestral history and the project has gone through ten years of community consultations, environmental assessments, and legal and regulatory approvals. Significant investments have also been made to support educational opportunities for future generations of Hawaii residents.
ACURA shares the concern about the protests now taking place and has expressed to the TMT partners its desire to ensure the safety of all involved and to find a peaceful path forward that respects the wishes of Native Hawaiians. To that end, we were encouraged by a statement issued by the Governor of Hawaii on July 23 in which he asked Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim “to coordinate both county and state efforts to peacefully attempt to reach common ground with the protectors of Maunakea and the broader community,” adding that both the Governor and Mayor “understand that the issues underlying whatis taking place today are far deeper than TMT or Maunakea. They are about righting the wrongs done to the Hawaiian people going back more than a century.”
As a partner in the Thirty Meter Telescope project (TMT) since its inception, the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA) and its members believe in the science behind the project. We want the project to be a source of pride for Hawaiians and to progress in the spirit of respect and reconciliation.