Favoring the Thirty Meter Telescope

mauna_kea_scopeThe University of Hawaii has recently allowed the use of the university’s leased land on the summit of Mauna Kea, located on The Big Island, to become the location of the world’s largest telescope. This $1.3 billion dollar project, also known as Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), will begin construction later this year thanks to the University’s approval. However, the development of the telescope is met with opposition from people representing Native Hawaiian environmental and cultural groups seeking the preservation of land that they consider sacred.

As a current student attending the university, I have heard and seen many opinions and facts from both sides of the issue regarding the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), and I am sure many of my fellow students have as well. Because of the recent approval of construction, I have chosen to explore and discover how the TMT will impact the local economy and how that affects us.

The Thirty Meter Telescope will be the world’s most advanced tool for galactic observation, it is predicted to restore Hawaii’s construction industry and present an opportunity to improve the local economy , but how does that benefit the local people of Hawaii and how much will this boost the island’s economy?

During TMT’s construction the the rent will start at $300,000 and increase as the project reaches certain benchmarks, says University of Hawaii at Hilo’s Chancellor, Donald Straney. Upon completion the telescope will pay upwards of $1 million a year for its use of land, and of that $1 million 80 percent will be paid to the Office of Mauna Kea Management, the office responsible for the preservation of natural, cultural and recreational resources of Mauna Kea. The remaining 20 percent will go to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

It is estimated to provide 300 temporary construction jobs for many locals. According to TMT business manager, David Goodman, 20 percent to 30 percent of the $1.3 billion will be spent in Hawaii, which means that $300 to $400 million will be spent in state. Many of the jobs will go to contractors, carpenters, and construction workers whom are a part of Au’s union. This will result in a major growth of activity for the construction business in Hawaii for the next ten years it is expected to take for the site’s completion in 2022.

After its completion, it is projected that TMT will provide 120-140 permanent jobs on Mauna Kea as well as in Hilo. Running the world’s most powerful optical telescope requires many qualified workers in computer and network support as well as those experienced in machine shops. For example, a local Hawaiian firm has been hired by the TMT to conduct geotechnical tests on site for $600,000.

According the Telescope’s website it will be providing longterm employment for many astronomers, engineers, mechanical, (optical, and electrical) technicians, software and information technology engineers, direction and maintenance staff, scientific support, public outreach, and management and administrative positions such as cultural and education specialists.

In addition to creating jobs, TMT will contribute directly to revenues from payments of electricity, communication infrastructure, local and state taxes. Further contribution to the sate and local economies, a total of $25.8 million per year, will come from the annual labor budget, approximately $13 million, and remaining $12.8 million from the non-labor budget.

TMT is also planning to locate its Instrumental Development Office in Hawaii, which manages and coordinates construction of new instruments that is valued around $20 million annually, resulting in even more employment positions on the island. These additional positions will purchase local goods and services as well as pay local and state taxes that further fuel Hawaii’s economic growth.

The attention surrounding TMT is also stirring the curiosity of many people who are interested by astronomy. It is predicted that all the interest concerning such technology and astronomy could result in an increase in tourism. A growth in tourism will demand even more local employment positions and increased revenue for both the state and local economy.

The TMT will not only progress Hawaii’s economy by providing jobs and tax revenue, but it will also enhance the states educational system. The University of Hawaii’s astronomy program, with its guaranteed fraction of observation time will continue to retain its significant role in the Nation’s astronomy program because it will host the location of the world’s most powerful optical telescope. TMT is planning to actively participate in supporting current efforts to strengthen Hawaii’s STEM education ( Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) for K-12 schools and other learning organizations with Science and Engineering fairs and FIRST robotics competitions along with the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii. TMT also plans on developing a mentoring program for children “to provide support for those interested in astronomy, technology, engineering, and math during the entire elementary school-to-university graduate school education path”. TMT will also be offering scholarships to students who are interested in any of those career paths.

We are at the peak of mankind, living on the edge of discovery. We as the human race have experienced exponential growth in the scientific community. After the Wright brothers first attained flight, it was only a mere 66 years after that for Neil Armstrong to take his one small step that is forever known as one giant leap for mankind. This telescope looks to be another step for mankind, however we must tread lightly on sacred land.

Mauna Kea is considered a temple, a house of worship to Native Hawaiians. Legend has it that Mauna Kea is where the sky and earth separated to form space and the heavenly realms. It is believed that this is where creation originated and thus the root of Native Hawaiian’s ancestral ties. It is said that Akua built Mauna Kea to bring the heavens to man, and in my opinion, this beautifully bridges the gap between religion and science. If Mauna Kea is meant to bring the heavens to man, then the TMT is doing just that by taking complete advantage of that gift’s full potential.

Although there is opposition regarding the construction of TMT, it will create a positive impact to the local economy in Hawaii by providing jobs and monetary income for the state, and may even be viewed as serving the purpose Mauna Kea was made for. Neil Abercrombie announced in his State of the State address, “Mauna Kea is Hawaii’s gift to the world – the best place on the planet to observe the universe. It is without peer. It provides an unparalleled opportunity to advance our knowledge of our universe.” (2014 State of the State Address), and I believe that if we can keep our minds respectfully open to tradition as well as science, we can help Hawaii’s own Neil A. take his small step.



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