At the end of this public-health crisis, recovery will take every bit of worthy economic stimulus, which should not be squandered. That’s why Hawaii simply cannot allow the Thirty Meter Telescope to slip through its fingers.
Increasingly, though, that seems to be happening. Sober news came this week that cost of the world-class TMT planned for Mauna Kea has ballooned to $2.4 billion, about $1 billion more than long-estimated. That’s due to inflation, market cost increases for construction items and, of course, construction delays. Since July – though TMT has secured its final state permit after a decade of legal and administrative challenges – construction has been physically blocked by Native Hawaiian protesters who believe Mauna Kea to be sacred.
In addition to the rising price tag, TMT’s Japan partner has said that it has suspended project funding for a year. Plus, partners in India and China reportedly are leaning away from Hawaii, toward a less-problematic “Plan B” site in Spain’s Canary Islands.
It’s been an ongoing shame that TMT has been kept at bay here. After all, Hawaii’s modern astronomy industry was born from disaster: not a viral crisis like today, but from the devastating 1960 tsunamis that decimated the Hilo side and left the Big Island economy in shambles. And there is a proud history of astronomy embedded in Hawaiiana: the early Polynesians were skilled navigators who sailed the open oceans using knowledge of the stars.
Today, as Hawaii descends further into coronavirus’ economic pit, worthy shovel-ready projects will be key to helping the state rebound.
TMT surely rises to the top: Project manager Gary Sanders recently noted that the telescope is “shovel-ready, just not shovel-accessible.”
Gov. David Ige, and others responsible for the state’s recovery, must fight vigorously to keep TMT here.