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By Mary Fan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
October 14, 1997

SEAC petitions Likins about telescope controversy


Robert Henry Becker
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Members from the Student Environmental Action Coalition and Earth First! stand opposite Tucson police officers yesterday at Strategic Issues Management Group, a public relations firm promoting the Mount Graham Telescope project for the UA. The group was removed from the office, but continued to protest outside.

Student and community activists appealed to the new UA president yesterday over the controversial telescope project atop Mount Graham.

Five Student Environmental Action Coalition representatives, including three University of Arizona students, told President Likins the telescope construction violated the rights of native people and animals on the peak.

"He didn't say 'no' to our demands, he just said he had to research it - in the past it was always an immediate no," said Anna Sellas, an ecology and evolutionary biology senior.

"I feel like we were heard," she added.

Construction is already complete on two of three telescopes for the observatory, and construction crews are busy building the third: the Large Binocular Telescope.

Likins said after the meeting that listening to students is one of his goals.

"I want to reach out to students and make sure they understand that I want to hear their concerns," Likins said. "I'm always willing to listen and talk straight as long as the dialogue remains civil and respectful of differing opinions."

Likins said he made no commitments or promises at the closed meeting, which was held at the Plaza Hotel, 1900 E. Speedway Blvd.

He said only that he would maintain an open mind.

"I have now heard only their side of the story, and I don't know and won't know for a while all the complexities surrounding the telescope building on Mount Graham," Likins said.

"In the normal course of my presidency I fully expect to receive a substantial briefing on the Large Binocular Telescope project but that process is just beginning," he said.

The SEAC members said they had four requests for Likins:

Halt the LBT construction.

Arrange a meeting between Likins and the traditional San Carlos Apaches, a tribe who holds Mount Graham sacred.

Open the records of the company overseeing the LBT construction, the Large Binocular Telescope Corporation, of which UA is a partner.

Cancel the contract between the LBT Corporation and the Strategic Issues Management Group (SIMG), a public relations firm.

LBT Project Director John Hill said Mount Graham had been chosen for the LBT for several reasons. He said the mountain was not polluted with light from urban areas and its altitude limits the water vapor in the air. The vapor would interfere with the infrared and radio wave astronomy the scope will be used for, he said.

The 11:30 a.m. meeting followed a demonstration yesterday morning in front of the offices of SIMG.

Between 25 and 30 protesters contended the firm is involved in a deliberate misinformation campaign designed to put a positive spin on Mount Graham telescope construction.

This conflict stems from an April 30 letter printed in the Arizona Daily Wildcat that was penned, but not signed, by SIMG. Art senior Jennifer Marshall, whose name appeared at the bottom of the letter, later retracted the statement.

Watched by Tucson Police, the protesters lined the street near 622 N. Country Club Road bearing signs denouncing the UA and the SIMG.

Protesters initially sat in the SIMG office lobby, demanding to speak with David Steele, a partner in the firm. Police told them to vacate the office, which they did.

Demonstrators left without meeting with Steele, who later said he regarded the demonstration as a prank.

"The extremists that are opposing the telescopes on Mount Graham have exhausted all of their legal avenues and lost all credibility so all they have left are pranks like we saw today," Steele said.

Wildcat reporter Greg Clark contributed to this report.

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