The Facts About TMT on Mauna Kea
To follow please find the answers to frequently asked questions about the TMT project on Maunakea.
What is TMT doing to protect Maunakea’s cultural resources?
TMT is committed to a new paradigm of development on Maunakea founded on integrating culture, science, sustainability and education. The TMT project understands the importance of archaeological and cultural sites found on Maunakea and takes their protection very seriously. From the very beginning, TMT and its planners have focused on the protection and preservation of Maunakea culture and landscape. In the 2000 Maunakea Science Reserve Master Plan, the northern plateau in Area E was identified as the area chosen for the next observatory location because of its lack of archeological, cultural or biological impact. The plan also noted the concerns from Native Hawaiians that no more development on the summit of Maunakea and its pu‘u should be considered and that these cultural areas need to be protected.
Are there archaeological features on the TMT site?
Maunakea is a mountain of rich ancestral history for the Hawaiian people. To help preserve and safeguard the most sensitive areas of the summit where cultural and spiritual practices are conducted, a decision was made about 15 years ago to prohibit observatories from being built at these highly visible and sensitive areas at the summit, or on pu’u at the summit, of Maunakea. Because of this, and a continued desire to be as respectful to the land as possible, great care was taken in identifying a location for TMT to have minimal impact archaeologically and environmentally. The selected site has no archaeological shrines or features, no endangered plants, no endangered bugs and no burials.
Are the lands on which TMT sits ceded lands?
Mauna Kea Science Reserve (MKSR) is designated as conservation land. The MKSR is also ceded land held in trust by the State of Hawaii. By Hawaii state law, one identified use for conservation land is astronomy.
Does TMT have support from the Hawaiian community?
TMT understands and is sensitive to the cultural significance of Maunakea. That is why it has engaged the Hawaiian community throughout its seven-year process. Counted among its supporters has been the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. TMT has also consulted with Kahu Ku Mauna, a volunteer community-based council whose members are from the Native Hawaiian community.
That said, TMT respects everyone’s personal opinions and right to protest in a peaceful and civil manner.
Why can’t TMT be put in place of one of the existing telescopes?
It was decided not to place the TMT at the site of one of the existing summit ridge facilities because that would require a large amount of grading, most of it in wekiu habitat, and because the visual impact would be much greater. The 2000 Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan identified the northwest plateau as the most appropriate location for a telescope like TMT. The specific site was selected because it is not visible from any of the places that people consider the most sacred on the mountain and because there are no archeological finds, ancient burials, or endangered native flora or fauna in the immediate area, and because a suitable site can be developed without a lot of grading.
Will TMT have an impact on the aquifer?
No. Comprehensive research by expert hydrologists confirms that TMT and the existing 13 telescopes pose no danger to the aquifer. There is also very little precipitation above 8,000 feet and the observatories are located well above that at the top of Maunakea at about 14,000 feet. Rather, the watershed recharge areas for Maunakea occur at lower elevations, where it rains. The Thirty Meter Telescope is being designed to leave zero waste on the mountain. This ensures it will not impact the quality of the island’s drinking water. It is a total closed waste water system. The Board and the court affirmed that TMT will not have an adverse impact on the water resources and hydrology of Maunakea.
What other environmental considerations are being made by TMT?
TMT will follow a Comprehensive Management Plan to protect and conserve Maunakea’s cultural and natural resources, becoming a model of sustainable astronomy. During construction, TMT will have cultural, archaeological, and construction monitors on site at all times.
How will the project benefit the Hawaii community?
TMT launched The Hawaii Island New Knowledge (THINK) Fund in 2014 to better prepare Hawaii Island students to master STEM and to become the workforce for higher paying science and technology jobs in Hawaii’s 21st century economy. TMT will make an annual contribution of $1 million to the Fund, which is administered by the Hawaii Community Foundation and Pauahi Foundation.
THINK Funds have already been distributed to over 30 classrooms throughout the island. The THINK Fund at HCF recently announced its STEM Learning Grants Program has distributed $500,000 to Hawaii Island schools and nonprofits.
TMT has also initiated a Workforce Pipeline Program, working with the State Department of Education, University of Hawaii Hilo, Hawaii Community College., Hawaii County government, and nonprofit organizations to strengthen STEM skills infrastructure at UH Hilo, HCC and K-12 education organizations serving low income and first-generation college attending populations. TMT is committed to spend additional funds each year on its Workforce Pipeline Program when fully operational.
How will TMT be funded after construction?
Telescopes are built and funded by universities, governments and companies within the science organizations. TMT will be funded this same way, with universities and those within the science community making an investment in operations in exchange for time on the telescope. There has never been a profit made by any of the observatories on Maunakea.
What is TMT paying for lease rent?
Starting in 2014, for the first three years, TMT will pay $300,000 followed by $400,000 for the fourth and fifth years, $600,000 when the structure is built, $700,000 when the instruments and mirrors are placed, and $900,000 in the 10th year of construction. After that, TMT will pay $1 million a year while the telescope is in operation. Eighty percent of the lease rent goes to the Office of Mauna Kea Management to malama (steward) the mountain and the remaining twenty percent goes to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
What are the estimated annual operational costs for TMT?
Operations are estimated at $27 million per year in basic operating expenses and $12 million per year in instrument development in FY2010 economics.
How many jobs will be created to operate TMT?
Thirty Meter Telescope will supply much needed employment opportunities and possibilities for businesses to assist TMT’s development, operations and maintenance. During the 8- to 10-year construction timeline, TMT will create about 300 local and specialized construction jobs. Once the telescope is completed, TMT will generate about $26 million annually in observatory operations and employ about 140 employees. TMT’s commitment is to fill these positions with as many Hawaii residents as possible.
Was TMT’s Environmental Impact Statement approved?
The TMT Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was approved in May 2010 after a two-year public review and input process. The FEIS was not challenged following approval.
Does TMT have all necessary permits to proceed?
Following a lengthy seven-year public and agency review, all required state and county permits were issued to the Thirty Meter Telescope. In May 2014, Third Circuit Court Judge Nakamura issued a Final Judgment affirming Findings of Fact, Conclusion of Law and Decision and Order Granting Conservation District Use Permit (CDUP) for the TMT project. Since then, TMT obtained all other necessary permits and approvals to proceed with construction of the telescope.
Does the TMT project meet the eight requirements for building in a conservation area?
In May 2014, Third Circuit Court Judge Nakamura’s Final Judgment affirmed that astronomy facilities under an approved management plan are an appropriate use in the astronomy precinct on Maunakea, and that TMT meets the eight criteria for a Conservation District Use Permit by being consistent with state laws governing districts, not causing substantial adverse impact to existing natural resources, being compatible with the surrounding area, preserving the existing physical and environmental aspects, not subdividing or increasing the intensity of land use and not being materially detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare. Native Hawaiian cultural practices and resources were properly and adequately considered. To simplify the legal wording above, TMT is eight-for-eight.
History of Community Outreach
What has TMT done in terms of community outreach?
TMT understands and is sensitive to the cultural significance of Maunakea. That is why it has engaged the Hawaiian community throughout its seven-year planning process. In that time, TMT has:
Consulted with Native Hawaiian groups including Kahu Ku Mauna
Provided opportunities for community feedback
Held more than 20 public meetings
Participated in one-on-one meetings, small and larger group presentations
Engaged in open dialog and meaningful discussions with community members and stakeholders
Supported numerous STEM education programs on the island, including robotics, internships, after school and intercession programs, and others
From a science perspective, why build TMT?
TMT scientists selected Maunakea after a rigorous five-year campaign spanning the entire globe that measured virtually every atmospheric feature that might affect the performance of the telescope. Located above approximately 40 percent of Earth’s atmosphere, the site at Maunakea has a climate that is particularly stable, dry, and cold; all of which are important characteristics for capturing the sharpest images and producing the best science.
TMT’s location in Hawaii will maintain the U.S.’s 150-year long leadership position in astronomy research, discovery, and innovation by leveraging the capacity and abilities of TMT partners’ existing astronomy facilities in Hawaii including Keck, Canada France Hawaii Telescope and Subaru Observatories. Leveraging these facilities will provide opportunities to coordinate and create synergies in scientific programs and instrumentation otherwise not possible.
The TMT telescope will provide extremely sharp images that will allow astronomers to see much fainter and more distant objects than possible with existing telescopes, and to study them in greater detail. This represents the possibility of pushing our vision farther into space and our understanding farther back in time to help answer fundamental questions about the universe. It is very likely that TMT will enable discoveries that we cannot even begin to anticipate today.
Note: Regarding spelling of Maunakea, we use the spelling preferred by the UH Hilo Ka Haka `ula o Ke`elikolani College of Hawaiian Language.
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