A $1.4 billion telescope planned for construction on Mauna Kea could move to another site. Officials from the Thirty Meter Telescope have selected the Canary Islands in Spain as the TMT’s alternate location if a permit for Hawai‘i is not granted by early next year.
The decision was made by the TMT International Observatory Board of Governors. They selected the Canary Islands over other sites in Chile, China, India, and Mexico.
"After careful deliberation, the Board of Governors has identified Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos (ORM) on La Palma in the Canary Islands, Spain as the primary alternative to Hawaii,” said board chair Henry Yang in a statement. “Maunakea continues to be the preferred choice for the location of the Thirty Meter Telescope, and the Board will continue intensive efforts to gain approval for TMT in Hawaii.”
“There are a number of observatories at the Canary Islands. So it is a feasible site to study the stars,” said Scott Ishikawa, a spokesperson for the TMT.
But he stressed that Hawai‘i remained TMT’s top choice. “It still remains TMT’s primary option,” said Ishikawa. “The hope is that the permit can be approved either the end of this year or early next year.”
Protests against the telescope stalled construction last year. And in December, Hawaii's Supreme Court revoked the TMT’s permit, sending the matter back for a new contested case hearing.
“The decision is the important next step in getting an alternate site ready,” said Ray Carlberg, an astrophysicist at the University of Toronto, Canada and a member of the TMT board of governors. Carlberg is happy that the contested case hearings are underway, but acknowledges that the TMT still has a long way to go in obtaining a new permit. “Things are going somewhat slowly, but nevertheless progress towards a decision is being made,” Carlberg said. “We certainly look forward to the outcome.”
Testimony for the new case began two weeks ago, and will likely continue well into December.