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Spain judge nixes backup site for disputed Hawaii telescope

MADRID (AP) – A Spanish judge in a decision applauded by environmentalists halted backup plans for building a giant telescope in the Canary Islands – eliminating at least for now the main alternative location to the location preferred in Hawaii, where there have been protests against the telescope.

Construction of the Thirty-Meter Telescope, or TMT, on Hawaii’s highest mountain, Mauna Kea, has been blocked by opponents who say the project will desecrate land held sacred by some native Hawaiians.

Those responsible for the telescope had chosen the alternative location near an existing scientific research center on the highest mountain of La Palma, one of the Spanish islands off the West African coast, in the Atlantic Ocean.

But an administrative court in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the capital of the Spanish archipelago, ruled last month that the 2017 concession by local authorities of public land for the interim project was invalid. The decision was dated July 29, but only became public this week after local media reported on the decision.

In the ruling obtained by The Associated Press, Judge Roi López Encinas wrote that the allocation of the telescope land was subject to an agreement between the Canary Islands Institute of Astrophysics, or IAC, and the telescope’s developer, the TMT International Observatory consortium.

But the judge ruled the deal was invalid because TIO had not expressed an intention to build on the La Palma site rather than the Hawaii site.

The judge also sided with the plaintiff, environmental group Ben Magec-Ecologistas en Acción, in rejecting arguments by TIO’s legal team and the island government that the land concession was covered by a treaty. international scientific research.

A Canary Islands High Court official said questions about the ruling could not be answered because other justice officials able to answer the questions were on vacation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to be named in media reports.

The island’s elected local government chief, Mariano Zapata, said it was “sad” that advocacy groups “are so busy with administrative issues rather than environmental issues.”

“I wish we were all in the same boat with the intention of creating jobs on the island of La Palma so that it can continue to be an international benchmark in scientific research,” Zapata said. His government estimated last year that the telescope would generate 500 permanent jobs and at least 400 million euros ($ 470 million) in investment.

Scott Ishikawa, spokesperson for the consortium that hopes to build the telescope, said the consortium plans to appeal the decision.

“Although we respect the decision of the court of La Palma, we will continue the legal process to keep La Palma as an alternative site. Hawaii remains our preferred location for TMT, and we have renewed our efforts to better connect with the Hawaii community in a meaningful and appropriate way, ”he said in an email to The Associated Press.

Pablo Batista, spokesperson for the Ben Magec-Ecologistas en Acción group, hailed the decision as a big setback for what he called a “fraudulent” project which he said made “false promises” of new jobs for the island.

“The very idea of ​​offering the island as a safeguard was nothing more than a strategy to pressure Hawaii’s plans,” Batista said.

In a statement, the group also said that “the five years the TIO consortium has wasted on La Palma should make it reflect on the arrogant and disrespectful strategy they have pursued in both Hawaii and the Canary Islands, emboldened by institutional support. and despising the arguments of the opposition to the TMT.


Associated Press editor Audrey McAvoy contributed to this report from Honolulu.



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