Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Contributing Editor
The Thirty Meter Telescope project now has the approval of the Mauna Kea Management Board and the official signature of Gov. Linda Lingle.
The board, which manages land at the summit of Mauna Kea, unanimously voted Wednesday to recommend the UH-Hilo chancellor approve the $1 billion telescope.
About three-quarters of those who testified were in favor of the telescope, said Sandra Dawson, task leader the TMT site master planning.
The University of Hawaii Board of Regents then needs to approve the project, which may be as soon as June, Dawson said.
Then, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources will consider a Conservation District Use Permit.
Also Wednesday, Lingle signed the environmental impact statement, officially accepting it as sufficiently meeting guidelines and regulations.
Once the EIS approval is formally announced – likely this week in the Office of Environmental Quality Control notice – members of the public will have 60 days to initiate legal challenges.
Dawson said the two approvals were important in moving the project forward.
“These are huge keys to the next step,” she said. “We are really delighted.”
The backing from the governor, who previously has voiced her support, and the land management board mean the project could have the necessary clearance to begin building in about a year.
Meanwhile, Dawson said, scientists, engineers, and other specialists are continuing their work on the technology and project management aspects.
Also this week, India has signed on as an observer, she said. China and Japan previously expressed interest in the project.
Eventually, the three countries may become full-fledged partners in TMT, Dawson said.
Last summer, TMT’s board of directors selected Mauna Kea as the location to build the world’s most advanced mirror telescope over a site in Chile.
The Thirty Meter Telescope project is a partnership of the University of California, California Institute of Technology and Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy.
TMT hopes to have the telescope completed by 2018. It will enable astronomers to study objects in our own solar system and stars throughout our Milky Way and neighboring galaxies, and forming galaxies at the very edge of the observable Universe, near the beginning of time.