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By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
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By Stephen Lemons
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Even if the massive telescope is allowed to be relocated to another peak, it is unclear how the university will finance the largest optical telescope on Earth. UofA can't find enough partners to build the complete telescope. Several partners have backed out, including the University of Chicago and, most recently, Ohio State. Rather than the LBT, UofA may end up building an LMT--Large Monocular Telescope.
State funding sources also are limited. While the Arizona State Legislature poured $600,000 a year into the project since the mid-1980s, UofA's chances of getting the additional $1 million annual appropriation it is seeking appear slim.
Besides UofA, the only full partner willing to pledge a $15 million share is Italy's Arcetri Observatory, which has put a few million dollars into the project and says it would not be liable if the notoriously unstable Italian government decides not to provide full funding.
UofA also has secured a commitment from Tucson-based Research Corporation to provide up to $7.5 million. Funds from Research Corporation, Arcetri and UofA, and the $2.3 million that Ohio State invested before it withdrew, are enough to build a monocular telescope and a mount, so a second mirror could be added later. The full LBT would then be completed when new partners are found.
"We can build a bare-bones telescope," Strittmatter says.
Such a telescope is a far cry from the device UofA described to Congress in 1988, when it won an exemption from the National Environmental Policy Act.
Research Corporation's entry into the consortium came six months after Ohio State dropped out, leaving the LBT in limbo. It is an unusual project for Research Corporation. The 81-year-old, nonprofit foundation has traditionally given scores of small grants in the $20,000-to-$50,000 range to researchers across the country.
But UofA had an in; the president of Research Corporation, John Schaefer, was UofA president from 1971 until 1982. Schaefer says he is willing to commit an equivalent of two years' worth of Research Corporation grants to the telescopes.
"The project was clearly having financial difficulties and stood in danger of collapsing, and it struck me that they needed financial support," Schaefer says.
Schaefer doesn't believe Research Corporation will be called on to provide the entire $7.5 million, saying a more likely commitment will be $2 million to $3 million. UofA thinks otherwise.
"We expect to use all of it," says UofA administrator Cusanovich.
@body:At the same time that the university is wrestling with a telescope site and financing for the $60 million binocular, it faces angry and increasingly organized opposition.
Student environmental groups have staged protests across the country, pressuring potential partners, including Ohio State, to bail out. The students are keeping the pressure up on the campuses of the University of Pittsburgh and Michigan State University as those astronomy departments toy with the idea of joining UofA on Mount Graham.
Indian groups joined the battle after San Carlos Apaches asserted spiritual claims to the mountaintop. Information documenting the tribe's spiritual relationship to the mountain has been in the Arizona State Museum on the UofA campus since 1969, but was not included in UofA's environmental impact statements.
The information was even ignored by former Coronado National Forest supervisor Robert Tippeconnic, a Comanche who was raised on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. Tippeconnic, who now works in Washington, D.C., as the U.S. Forest Service's national liaison with Indian tribes, says he knew many traditional Apaches considered Mount Graham to be sacred, but would be reluctant to describe their feelings to non-Indians. Yet during planning, Tippeconnic's office made no effort to solicit the views of San Carlos Apaches, beyond writing a letter to the tribal council to announce the proposed development.
In May, the San Carlos Apache Tribal Council affirmed for the fourth time the tribe's opposition to telescopes on Mount Graham. The mountain is aboriginal territory of the Apaches and was once part of the San Carlos Apache Reservation. The mountain was removed from the reservation by presidential order in the 1870s.
The opposition network has even extended throughout Europe, where a coalition of environmentalists, students and supporters of indigenous peoples continues to pressure the Vatican, the Italian government and Germany's Max Planck Institute to get off the mountain.
With UofA battling fires on several fronts and the 1992 original start-up date for the LBT pushed back to 1997 or beyond, opponents of the project believe the university is making a do-or-die effort to discredit and discourage opposition.
The university's tack so far is to arrest the leadership of opposition groups every time they stage a public demonstration. Dave Hodges of Earth First! and Indian leaders Guy Lopez and Kevin Lopez are the most frequent targets. All three were arrested for activities stemming from the Columbus Day demonstration at Steward Observatory, and face a trial later this year.
Paul Gattone, a National Lawyer's Guild attorney, believes the university is conspiring with the Pima County Attorney's Office to harass project foes. Gattone says assistant Pima County attorney Guy Keenan told him before Hodges and the Lopezes' trial was delayed in May that "the UofA really wants to go forward with this. They want to try to discourage future protests."