The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), an 18-story astronomical observatory planned to be built on top of Hawaii's Mauna Kea, could allow astronomers to better study and learn more about the universe.
If construction pushes through, the telescope would be one of the biggest telescopes in the world. Unfortunately, the promise of scientific breakthroughs clash with cultural heritage as people protest the $1.4 billion project because they want to protect what they consider as a sacred land from development.
The people's call for the protection of their cultural heritage has paved way for the battle over the telescope's permit to bypass the Intermediate Court of Appeal and go directly to the Hawaii Supreme Court with Hawaii's high court granting the request on Friday.
The University of Hawaii has been given the permit to build the telescope but many people are against the construction of the observatory on Mauna Kea's summit as the area is considered a conservation district.
"The Mauna Kea issue is really simple," said Kealoha Pisciotta, who opposed the telescope. "Any land on the mountain without an existing telescope is considered a cultural and natural preserve, and requires a permit from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) for development. The DLNR's mandate is to protect Hawaii's cultural and natural resources, but it's not. Therein lies the problem."
Members of the Mauna Kea Hui, who are against the telescope, see the court's decision as a sign that it recognizes the importance of the case albeit lawyers do not expect that the transfer of the appeal could change the outcome of the case.
Doug Ing of Watanabe Ing LLC, who represents the telescope said that they are confident the previous ruling for TMT's permit would be upheld.
"We do not expect that the transfer of the appeal to the Supreme Court will change the anticipated outcome," said Ing. "We remain confident that the court will uphold the previous ruling that the Conservation District Use Permit granted for TMT is consistent with Hawaii law."
Hawaii Gov. David Ige said that the TMT project has taken the appropriate steps and received the approvals required to move forward and thus has the right to push through with the construction.
Ige has proposed actions that the University of Hawaii system could adopt in order to improve stewardship of the mountain and this includes making the TMT the last telescope project on the mountain.