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Hawaii approves telescope on sacred volcano ground

Staff Writer |
A team of scientists won approval from Hawaii officials on Thursday to build a $1.4 billion telescope atop a volcano indigenous people consider sacred.

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The Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources voted 5-2 to allow construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the summit of Mauna Kea on Hawaii’s Big Island, state officials said in a statement.

Astronomers consider the summit one of the world’s best places to view the cosmos, while Native Hawaiians say the project would disturb holy ground crucial to their connection with ancestors and the heavens.

A consortium of scientists, after selecting the site in 2009 and applying to build there, initially received construction permits from state officials in 2011. In 2015, the Hawaii Supreme Court voided that decision, saying officials did not follow the proper procedures for a “contested case hearing.”

That forced the state board to re-evaluate the proposal with more input from opponents. The project calls for building one of the world’s largest telescopes atop the dormant volcano.

“This was one of the most difficult decisions this board has ever made,” Suzanne Case, chairwoman of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, said in a statement.

The 13,800 foot-tall (4,205 meters) volcano is already dotted with telescopes, the board noted in a 345-page decision paper.

“Today, Mauna Kea is the best place on earth to study the heavens,” the board’s decision paper said.

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