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TMT backup site in Canary Islands in jeopardy; court voids agreement to use public lands

The Thirty Meter Telescope lost a potential backup location after a court in the Canary Islands, Spain, revoked an agreement to use public lands as a site for the contentious observatory.

Maunakea always has been the preferred site for TMT, because its altitude and latitude make it ideal for viewing the stars. However, the international consortium behind the TMT project named the Canary Islands as a potential alternate site in 2016, and in 2019 reached a land agreement with the City Council of Puntagorda, a municipality on the north end of the island of La Palma.

That land agreement has been revoked, according to Canary Island news outlets, after a lawsuit filed by ecological conservation group Ben Magec: Ecologistas en Accion in the Tribunal Superior de Justicia de Canarias, the high court of the Canary Islands.

El Dia, the largest newspaper in the Canary Islands capital of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, reported Monday that the court has annulled the 2019 land agreement made between Puntagorda and the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias on behalf of TMT.

According to a Google translation of the Spanish-language article, the land agreement was predicated on the condition that the TMT International Observatory officially begin construction on La Palma before a future deadline that was not specified in the article or supporting documents. The TSJC has determined that, because TIO has never actually made a commitment to build on La Palma at all, the agreement was made fraudulently and should be annulled.

The IAC and the Puntagorda council will appeal the verdict, according to the El Dia article.

Puntagorda mayor Vicente Rodriguez told El Dia that he does not understand how the TSJC could have reached its verdict at all, considering the deadline to begin construction has not passed yet.

But with the Canary Islands site currently stymied, TMT’s only option is now Maunakea, where no construction has taken place since being granted the go-ahead by the Hawaii Supreme Court in 2018. An attempt to begin construction in July 2019 led to intense opposition and protests that occupied the sole access road to the summit for the remainder of the year.

“TMT has always followed the law,” read a statement by TMT spokesman Scott Ishikawa. “While we respect the court’s ruling, we do not agree with this decision and will appeal to the Superior Court of Justice of Canary Islands. Hawaii remains our preferred location for TMT, with La Palma as our alternative site.”

A statement by Ben Magec opined that the legal rejection of the Canary Islands site demonstrates a thoughtless pattern of behavior by TMT that will continue on the Big Island.

“We believe that the five years TIO has lost in La Palma should make them reflect on the arrogant and disrespectful strategy they have had, both in Hawaii and in the Canary Islands, emboldened with institutional supports and despising the reasons of the opposition to the TMT,” the statement, sent to the Tribune-Herald in English, read. “TIO already knew in 2016 that their project on La Palma contravenes all urban and environmental regulations that protect the area. Nevertheless, they preferred to collude with the IAC and the local authorities to modify the laws in their own interest, like purest style of urban planning corruption practices.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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