By Joseph Altman Jr.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
The UA's plans to build the Large Binocular Telescope on Mt. Graham were halted once again yesterday when a federal appeals court ruled that the government must conduct more studies on the project's impact on the mountain's ecosystem.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision by U.S. District Judge Alfredo Marquez, who ruled last July that the federal government must conduct a new review of the impact on the Mount Graham red squirrel, an endangered subspecies.
A 1988 federal law said construction of three telescopes on Mt. Graham could begin immediately, without the delay of compliance with the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act.
The first two telescopes have already been built, and the land where the LBT is supposed to sit has already been cleared.
The law specified a configuration for the three telescopes approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, saying it offered the most protection for the red squirrel.
However, in 1993, the University of Arizona proposed a new site, saying the squirrel would be better protected. The new site was approved separately by the Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service without the usual formal consultation between the
The Circuit Court opinion by Judge Arthur Alarcon said the site of the LBT was specified by the 1988 law and can not be changed without a full environmental review.
"Congress rejected legislation proposed by the university that would have allowed the university free rein to develop the site as it wished," Alarcon said to the Associated Press.
The dissenting judge in the 2-1 ruling, Cynthia Holcomb Hall, said she interpreted the law to give "discretion (to) the Forest Service to site the telescope as it sees fit."
She said the delay caused by the ruling was "especially regrettable" because the Forest Service approved the new site as the least harmful to the squirrel.
The UA Attorney's Office could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Anne Carl of the Student Environmental Action Coalition, said the group will now watch the university to ensure that they follow the law to the letter.
"They're going to have to do all of the things they avoided doing before," she said.
Michael Cusanovich, UA vice president of research, said the university is currently evaluating its options and will decide on how to pursue the project within a few weeks.
"We have to consult with (federal agencies) and that obviously takes a little while at the table to figure out our options," he said. "This is just another step in the process.
"We're reasonably confident that we will prevail," Cusanovich said.
David Hodges of SEAC said, "This is an absolutely fabulous decision in light of the fact that for years, the university has tried to run roughshod over students, Apaches, environmentalists, endangered species and the mountain itself. This is their reward and it can't feel good."
Cusanovich said the delays are costing money, but he "couldn't put a number on it."
Wildcat reporter Cara Miller and The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Read Next Article