Circumventing the law UA's answer to Mt. Graham debacle

The criminal as the victim is always an interesting stretch of the imagination, though if you have as much money and as many lawyers as our university, then you might be able to buy such a determination.

In April 1995, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the U.S. District Court and rules that the University of Arizona had indeed broken the law. The UA's response is chilling in its attitude toward the laws of this country.

Circumventing The Law Part One

Normally, before projects such as building a huge astronomical complex in the middle of a culturally and environmentally unique area are allowed to begin, there is an impact assessment which attempts to answer whether the site is appropriate for development. In the case of our public forest on Mt. Graham, instead of complying with our laws which mandate such studies, the UA bought a Congressional exemption and the required studies were never completed. Though they argued for the 1988 exemption on grounds that the law would cause the project delay, their site-testing studies determining whether the site was good for telescopes were not finished until 1992 and 1993. Tragically, there was one very big problem: they found they had picked a terrible mountain for siting telescopes. Turbulent wind conditions would also force them to move out of their hand-picked, Congressionally-exempt area to build what even their own studies called an unsatisfactory site.

When faced with complying with protection laws and the very legislation they were responsible for creating, they thumbed their noses. In complete secrecy, the UA struck. On Dec. 7, 1993, they illegally clear-cut several hundred old-growth trees outside of their Congressionally-exempt site and created damage within another watershed. They deforested about half of their required area enough, they hoped, to establish a foothold and render impact studies moot.

Circumventing The Law Part Two

Adhering to the law doesn't come easy for an institution which is used to squeezing through loopholes and receiving special privileges. According to Steward Observatory's own Buddy Powell, the university has spent more than $200,000 fighting this court order which university spokesman Vern Lamplot said they don't expect to win anyway. Now, they are throwing away more money in an attempt to convince Congress to grant yet another exemption. Yes, as unbelievable as it may seem, the university has begun the process of lobbying the Arizona Congressional Delegation in an attempt to buy their own tainted brand of justice.

Why is an institution which supposedly values research and insists that these telescopes have no impact on the squirrels afraid to do an impact study? Official government studies show that the three-scope project would destroy 10 percent of the best habitat of a species subject to precarious cyclical swings in its population. Without adequate studies, there is simply not enough information to accurately predict the long-term impact of this project on the squirrel. For any scientist or astronomer to suggest otherwise is not only self-serving but intellectually dishonest.

The real tragedy is in how a research university could have performed such sloppy science, choosing a site whose turbulent winds render telescope seeing "unsatisfactory." Even more of a mystery is how the UA can find extra hundreds of thousands of dollars for this project whenever they need it. On a campus where many classes and entire departments are "endangered," and money for resources which all students use (library, computer labs, etc.) is severely limited, we question how the university can continue to unsuccessfully appeal lawsuits they say they don't have a chance of winning! Equally appalling is the recent request of the university to the regents asking for an additional 9.6 million dollars in order to build a power line for this project. Imagine adding a million dollars a year for the next 10 years to the library's budget and/or computer centers on campus, those same two resources which benefit all students rather than a handful of special interest researchers. Then watch it disappear into this project's black hole.

If the UA thinks lobbying away another million dollars to buy another Congressional exemption will end this controversy, they are mistaken. After the first exemption, a General Accounting Office investigation found the UA had misled Congress in the most corrupt and underhanded way. Predictably, the UA is doing the same thing now. We have documentation that the data used in their current lobbying packets is intentionally misrepresented, and claims they make are categorically untrue.

No wonder the UA has its own expensive public relations firm for image makeover. For over 10 years, the UA has wasted our money and our education, waging a crusade against our country's most important environmental and cultural protection laws, against indigenous people, endangered species and its own students.

Traditionally, universities are a place where people learn ethical and honorable behavior. Indeed, many departments offer courses addressing what is ethical behavior within various professions. UA and Steward Observatory administrators need to attend such classes.

Think about it: it's been about 15 months since the courts ruled and it will take several years to make the Large Binocular Telescope's mirrors. The required, lawful studies could easily be completed in far less time than this! What could be more ethical and educational than actually doing the studies and following the laws they broke? Unfortunately for the public, the UA could not, would not, and did not follow such an honorable course of action.

The Student Environmental Action Coalition is a collection of students and youth across the country, enraged by the politically-connected, taxpayer-subsidized, special interest groups/universities and the conditions they force upon natural resources, wildlife and people.

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