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TMT Draft Environmental Impact Statement Published: Potential benefits, stewarship and mitigation measures stressed

May 22, 2009

Hilo, HI — The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) for the proposed $1.2 billion Thirty Meter Telescope Project (TMT) will appear Saturday, May 23 in the Office of Environmental Quality Control’s (OEQC) Environmental Notice. The draft document details the environmental, community, economic, and cultural impacts of locating TMT on Maunakea1.

The purpose of the Draft EIS is to present the existing environmental conditions, analyze the potential effects of the project, and identify ways to minimize potential adverse impacts. The Draft EIS also outlines the potential benefits of TMT to the local economy and community.

Scope of the Draft EIS

The TMT project encompasses the construction, operation, and ultimate decommissioning of the world’s most advanced optical / infrared telescope. The plan proposes building TMT on the northern plateau of Maunakea at a location designated in the 2000 Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan for the next generation of optical telescopes. This location was preferred because it provides suitable observation conditions with minimum impact on existing facilities, wēkiu bug habitat, archaeology/historic sites, and the view of the mountain from various areas on the island.

The Draft EIS addresses the proposed TMT Observatory and associated facilities, including the mid-level facility at Hale Pōhaku, the headquarters in Hilo, and a potential satellite office in Waimea.

The Draft EIS was prepared by Parsons Brinckerhoff. The University of Hawai‘i is the Proposing Agency for the Draft EIS. The Accepting Authority is the Governor for the State of Hawai‘i.

Impact and Mitigation

The Draft EIS acknowledges that there are differences of opinions concerning TMT’s potential impact on cultural resources.

The Draft EIS proposes specific mitigation measures for both the cultural and environmental resources on Maunakea, including:

  • Action plans related to cultural resources, including on-site cultural monitor archeologist;
  • A construction monitor to oversee compliance with the permit and who has authority to cease construction activities if the activity violates the permit and/or is harmful to the cultural resources;
  • Designing the TMT to limit its visual impact;
  • A zero-discharge wastewater system at the TMT Observatory;
  • Implementing a Habitat Restoration Plan if a sensitive habitat is disturbed;
  • Cultural and Natural Resources Training Programs; and,
  • Invasive Species Prevention and Control Program.


The project’s objective is to advance human understanding and knowledge. The potential benefits of the proposed TMT project in Hawai‘i are primarily related to education and employment opportunities and direct contributions to the local and state economies.

Specific benefits include:

  • Hundreds of construction jobs created during the anticipated 8-year construction period;
  • Additional jobs created through materials, goods, and services purchased and contracted locally for this work; and,
  • An estimated 140 full-time employees during TMT’s operations.

Educational and community benefits outlined in the Draft EIS include:

  • A comprehensive Workforce Pipeline Program that is designed to educate, train and mentor Hawaii students to help them succeed and to be qualified for TMT and other high tech jobs; and,
  • A higher education and community benefit package to provide funding for (a) selected educational initiatives on the Island of Hawai‘i and observing time to UH astronomers; and (b) locally chosen and managed educational programs.

The higher education and community benefit package would be negotiated and become part of a lease or sublease, if TMT decides to come to Hawai‘i. Details of the packages will be described in the Final EIS, provided an agreement is reached.

Process and Next Steps

To date, the Draft EIS process has included more than six months of research, environmental studies, public comments, and compliance with the requirements in the Comprehensive Management Plan for Maunakea.

The process began in October 2008 with a series of public scoping meetings. Another series of public meetings to solicit comments on the Draft EIS is scheduled for mid-June at various locations on the Island of Hawai‘i and in Honolulu.

The community has expressed great interest in TMT, in protecting the natural and cultural resources of the island and in developing a different basis for compensation such as higher education and community benefit packages.

“Throughout this process, TMT board and project personnel have looked to the local community for guidance on these issues,” said TMT Site Studies Manager Sandra Dawson. “Environmental, cultural, educational, and civic leaders and community members have been extremely generous with their time and knowledge.”

Comments generated by the Draft EIS will be incorporated into the Final EIS.

The Draft EIS is the first step in the regulatory process. Subsequent milestones include the Final EIS and the submission of a Conservation District Use Application (CDUA) should Hawai‘i be selected as the preferred TMT site.

The TMT project is a partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, and ACURA, an organization of Canadian universities. The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan has also joined TMT as a Collaborating Institution.

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Contact :

Sandra Dawson, TMT

(626) 353-9732

1 Maunakea is spelled as one word in this document because it is considered the traditional Hawaiian spelling (Ka Wai Ola, Vos. 25 No. 11).  Maunakea is a proper noun, therefore spelled as one word in Hawaiian.  This spelling is found in original Hawaiian language newspapers dating back to the late 1800s when the Hawaiian language was the medium of communication.  In more recent years Maunakea has been spelled as two words, which literally mean “white mountain.”  Spelled as two words it is a common noun that could refer to any white mountain verses the proper name of this particular mountain on Hawai'i Island.  The common “Mauna Kea” spelling is only used in this document where Mauna Kea is used in a proper name, such as the “Mauna Kea Science Reserve.”

The TMT project is a collaboration of Caltech, University of California (UC) and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA). © Thirty Meter Telescope


Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy