Graham project 'botched' from start


The University of Arizona seems drunk or demented on its own academic arrogance.

It was bad enough the first time: in 1988 the university exercised its political muscle and extracted the first exemption to environmental laws ever granted to an American university so that it could build a telescope in the middle of a unique, 472-acre, virgin spruce fir old-growth forest which harbors at least 18 plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. The university rammed its exemption through a compliant Congress. It's been in trouble ever since.

The list is endless. Biologists admitted under oath that they'd been ordered to conclude the destruction of 27 percent of this unique habitat would have no effect on the squirrels. An independent study showed that at least 38 other sites in the United States would have produced better viewing conditions. The Forest Service eventually admitted they'd deliberately ignored information that the site was sacred to the Apaches. The UA's own later studies showed the site was "unacceptable" for an observatory. The university rushed through an illegal clear cut in 1993. Later studies demonstrated that the university managed to pick just about the worst site on the mountain, both in terms of the impact on the squirrels and the quality of the viewing. So now the university wants to move the scope although even the new site turned out to be "unacceptable" in UA studies of viewing conditions.

It was a complete botch from start to finish, which is why the university now wants to move the scope. But then a federal court finally called a halt to the deceptions and manipulations and ordered the university to obey environmental laws if it wanted to build a telescope outside the area exempted from environmental laws in 1988.

You'd think that would be enough, even for the terminally arrogant people who thought up this abomination. You'd think the university would cut its losses. You'd think the people who pushed this project through should be fired, investigated and arrested. Instead, the university wants to go back to Congress and seek another exemption from environmental laws. Have you, at last, no shame?

A public university ought to stand for truth, integrity and justice, but the UA has made its name rhyme with deceit, greed and deception. Enough is enough. The university should move the scope to one of the dozens of sites which have better viewing conditions and are not held sacred or located in the middle of a unique ecosystem. Don't compound the terrible mistakes already made by seeking a new waiver which will only start the struggle all over again.

Gina Silver

UA Alumna, 1992

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