Thursday March 21, 2019
Home Lead Story Decision on G...

Decision on Giant Telescope Delayed by Hawaii Board

The decision regarding the giant telescope of Hawaii has been delayed again

0
//
The giant telescope
FILE - This 2011 artist rendering shows the Thirty Meter Telescope. VOA

A key decision on whether to place a $1.4 billion telescope in Hawaii to further astronomy research has been delayed, leaving open the possibility the project may be moved to Spain, a panel said Friday.

The board of governors for the project dubbed the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory still wants to build the telescope on its preferred site of Mauna Kea, a mountain in Hawaii.

But an alternative location in Spain’s Canary Islands remains under consideration, the board said in a statement after meeting this week to discuss legal and regulatory challenges to the Hawaii telescope plan that could last years.

The giant telescope at Hawaii
The Giant telescope.

“We continue to assess the ongoing situation as we work toward a decision,” said Ed Stone, the executive director of the observatory.

He said no decision could be made on where to put the telescope “until we have a place to go, and we don’t decide when we have a place to go — that’s decided by the courts and agencies.”

Also Read: Telescope Group chooses Canary Islands as an alternative to Hawaii

Dormant volcano

The 30-meter (98 feet) diameter telescope would be placed on one side of Mauna Kea and is far more advanced than the world’s largest current telescopes that measure 10 meters (32 feet) in diameter. The new telescope could potentially allow scientists to make groundbreaking discoveries about black holes, exoplanets, celestial bodies, and even detect indications of life on other planets.

Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano and Hawaii’s tallest mountain, was selected in July 2009 as the target location for the telescope after a five-year search.

Scientists called it the best site in the world for astronomy, given a stable, dry, and cold climate, which allows for sharp images. The atmosphere over the mountain also provides favorable conditions for astronomical measurements, according to the TMT website.

The island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, which already has an astronomical observatory, is considered a viable alternative. But scientists have said the telescope’s design would have to be altered for more adaptive optics given the mountain site’s lower altitude and different climate. That means it would take scientists more time to achieve the same discoveries they could make at Mauna Kea, Stone said.

Decision for location of the giant telescope delayed again.
Hawaii Board delays decision on location for the Giant telescope.

Years of debate

The Hawaii site has been subject to years of public debate and legal challenges. Researchers say it will help usher in scientific and economic developments, while opponents maintain it will hurt the environment and desecrate land considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians. Mauna Kea already houses a number of high-powered telescopes at its summit.

“Thirty years of astronomy development has resulted in adverse significant impact to the natural and cultural resources of Mauna Kea,” said Kealoha Pisciotta, president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, an indigenous, Native Hawaiian group that works on environmental issues. “Trying to build more would have added to the cumulative impact.”

On Thursday, the Hawaii Senate approved a bill to ban new construction atop Mauna Kea, and included a series of audits and other requirements before the ban could be lifted. But House leaders said they don’t have plans to advance the bill. Democratic House Speaker Scott Saiki told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the “bill is dead on arrival in the House.”

Also Read: NASA delays launch of next-gen space telescope until 2020
There are also two appeals before the Hawaii Supreme Court. One challenges the sublease and land use permit issued by the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources. The other has been brought by a Native Hawaiian man who says use of the land interferes with his right to exercise cultural practices and is thus entitled to a case hearing.

The telescope project is a collaboration among universities in the U.S. and California, including the University of Hawaii and national science and research institutes of Japan, China, and India.

“It’s a privilege to practice astronomy on Mauna Kea and we’re not satisfied with where we’re at right now,” Dan Meisenzahl, a spokesperson for the University of Hawaii, said in a statement. “We will continue to push ourselves to improve our stewardship of the mountain.”  VOA

Next Story

Hawaii Weighs First State in US to Ban Plastics Used at Restaurants

Dozens of cities across the country have banned plastic foam containers, but Hawaii's measure would make it the first to do so statewide

0
Hawaii
Belinda Lau, manager of the Wiki Wiki Drive Inn takeout restaurant in Honolulu, holds a polystyrene foam box containing an order of roast pork, rice and salad, March 14, 2019. VOA

Hawaii would be the first state in the U.S. to ban most plastics used at restaurants under legislation that aims to cut down on waste that pollutes the ocean.

Hawaii would be the first state in the U.S. to ban most plastics at restaurants under legislation that aims to cut down on waste that pollutes the ocean.

Dozens of cities across the country have banned plastic foam containers, but Hawaii’s measure would make it the first to do so statewide. The liberal state has a history of prioritizing the environment — it’s mandated renewable energy use and prohibited sunscreen ingredients that harm coral.

A second, more ambitious proposal would go even further and prohibit fast-food and full-service restaurants from distributing and using plastic drink bottles, utensils, stirring sticks, bags and straws.

The Hawaii efforts would be stricter than in California, which last year became the first state to ban full-service restaurants from automatically giving out plastic straws, and broader than in Seattle, San Francisco and other cities that have banned some single-use plastics.

hawaii
Activists believe the foam container measure has a better chance of passing in Hawaii. VOA

“We have this reputation of setting the example for the world to follow, and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” state Sen. Mike Gabbard, lead author of the more ambitious measure, said to the Senate. “Our state can once again take the lead in protecting our environment.”

Gabbard, father of Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, said 95 percent of plastic packaging worldwide is thrown out after being used once. In the U.S., 500 million plastic straws are used and thrown out every day, he said.

Discarded, slow-to-degrade plastic is showing up at sea, as in a massive gyre northeast of the Hawaiian islands, and on beaches.

Plastics also contribute to climate change because oil is used to make them, said Stuart Coleman, Hawaii manager for the Surfrider Foundation.

Eric S.S. Wong, co-owner of two fast-food establishments on Oahu, said not being able to serve food in plastic foam containers would drive up his costs at a time when he faces rising health insurance charges for his employees and a possible minimum wage hike that lawmakers also are considering.

He said he’ll have to raise prices.

“Now all of the sudden, your family’s $30 dining experience became $37 or $38,” Wong said.

hawaii
Hawaii would be the first state in the U.S. to ban most plastics at restaurants under legislation that aims to cut down on waste that pollutes the ocean. Pixabay

His Wiki Wiki Drive Inn takeout counter in Honolulu sells sandwiches, breakfast meals and Hawaii favorites like Loco Moco, which features white rice topped with a hamburger patty, fried egg and gravy.

A package of 200 foam boxes costs him $23, while the same number of biodegradable boxes would cost $57, he said.

Chris Yankowski of the Hawaii Restaurant Association, which represents 3,500 restaurants, said lawmakers are trying to do “too much too fast.”

Yankowski, who is also president of Triple F Distributors, argued that good alternatives to plastic products are not yet available. Hawaii’s cities and counties also don’t provide composting facilities, so there is no organized place to dispose of compostable containers that lawmakers say restaurants should use instead, he added.

“It’s almost like we want to do great things for the environment, but we’re not ready to handle it when we change it over,” Yankowski said.

The Hawaii Food Industry Association, which counts the state’s biggest supermarkets and convenience stores as members, initially opposed the foam container ban but now supports it.

The group said in written testimony that it’s encountered difficulties coping with varied local regulations and it wants the state to create a consistent standard. Two main counties — Hawaii and Maui — have already adopted plastic foam bans. Maui’s took effect on Dec. 31, while Hawaii’s takes effect on July 1.

The association still opposes the broader measure, which also would ban plastic garbage bags.

hawaii
A second, more ambitious proposal would go even further and prohibit fast-food and full-service restaurants from distributing and using plastic drink bottles, utensils, stirring sticks, bags and straws. Pixabay

The president of Island Plastic Bags, a Hawaii company that makes plastic bags, said the legislation would prohibit his company from selling trash bags to nursing homes and hospitals as well as restaurants and hotels.

Grocery stores wouldn’t be able to sell trash can liners, Adrian Hong said in written testimony. It would create a “public health crisis,” he said.

Gabbard said his proposal was in the early stages so lawmakers have time to address such concerns.

The state Senate has passed both bills. They still must get through several House committees and the full House before heading to the governor.

ALSO READ: Report Claims, As Many As 1 Billion Indians Live in Areas of Water Scarcity

Cindy McMillan, a spokeswoman for Gov. David Ige, said he hasn’t stated a position on the measures yet.

Justin Macia, a pharmacist in Honolulu, said he would like people to use less plastic and stop using plastic foam entirely because of how long it takes to degrade. Cardboard containers would be a great alternative, he said.

“It’s definitely something that’s got to go,” he said, after eating a sandwich from a foam takeout box. (VOA)