UH Officials Rush To Begin Construction On Haleakala Telescope

Source: Schematic Design Submittal

The University of Hawaii plans to swiftly begin construction on a cutting-edge solar telescope atop Haleakala Volcano on Maui following a long-awaited ruling by the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources that reaffirms approval of a critical permit.

In a contested case that has dragged on for two years, the board ruled that the university’s conservation district use permit was properly granted in 2010 despite a challenge by Kilakila O Haleakala, a Native Hawaiian group that is represented by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation. The group has protested the telescope on cultural, spiritual and environmental grounds.

UH’s Institute of Astronomy has fretted openly about the potential loss of $146 million in federal stimulus funds — half the cost of the project — if the telescope doesn’t break ground soon. The funds must be expended by September 2015 or be lost, according to Kelli Trifonovitch, a spokeswoman for UH.

She said that construction would begin as soon as possible and is expected to be completed in five to seven years. Delays have been costing taxpayers $750,000 a month — the cost to maintain the stagnant project, said Trifonovitch.

The university is partnering with the National Science Foundation and a consortium of universities on the project. The telescope will be the largest of its kind and allow astrophysicists to study solar wind and solar flares and their impacts on Earth’s climate, according to UH. It will be built in “Science City,” where 10 other science facilities are located.

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