By Amy Silverman
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Valenzuela, a dark-haired mother of two, clutched the top of the tripod as the officer's saw cut through the pole. Activists yelled a famous 1968 slogan--The whole world is watching--while telescope supporters watched in bemusement and listened to the University of Arizona football game on the radio. After the first support was cut, three policemen slowly lowered the shortened pole to the ground.
Rattled, Valenzuela said she was coming down.
But she didn't move quickly enough for several officers involved in the operation, including the chain-saw operator, who stood near the second support post, revving his saw.
Valenzuela, an Apache who lives in Silver City, New Mexico, changed her mind.
"Drop another one down," she yelled. "I'm not coming down."
The process continued, one leg at a time, for another 15 minutes. Finally, the tip of the tripod was low enough that two officers could reach the protester by standing in the raised scoop of a front-end loader. Valenzuela, without resisting, was removed from the tripod and officers quickly tipped what had become a 20-foot-high structure. One of the poles snapped when it hit the ground.
With the last blockade removed, the motorcade continued up the mountain to Columbine for the dedication ceremony. There, more environmental activists, along with a handful of Native Americans that included representatives of the American Indian Movement and San Carlos Apaches, began playing drums, singing songs and explaining their opposition to the project to astronomy supporters--who were standing in line for a barbecue lunch.
"The creator doesn't need a peeping Tom like all of you people," said Vernon Foster, director of the Arizona AIM chapter.
The drumming and chanting provided a steady backdrop for the dedication ceremony, which finally began around 3 p.m., three hours late. The protesters would have been delighted to hear the first words out of Dr. George V. Coyne, a Jesuit priest and head of the Vatican Observatory.
"When I come to a place like this, I always ask myself, 'What are we doing here?'" he said, joking about the remoteness of Mount Graham. The site's seclusion and, until recently, unspoiled vistas have been at the focus of protesting environmentalists and those Native Americans who consider the mountain sacred. The area is home to the endangered Mount Graham red squirrel. Coyne, who once headed the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory, was accompanied by an authentic San Carlos Apache on the dedication platform as the drumming and chanting intensified. Many San Carlos Apaches oppose the telescope project, contending that the mountain is a sacred site and was once part of their aboriginal homeland.
"As a sign of our profound desire for peace, Buck Kitcheyan, former tribal chairman of the San Carlos Apaches, will recite the inscription on the dedication plaque in Apache," Coyne said.
Kitcheyan, who staunchly opposed the project when he was tribal chairman, has since changed his mind. The former chairman slowly read the inscription in Apache, finishing with the line: "May whoever searches here night and day the far reaches of space use it joyfully with the help of God."
Kitcheyan returned to his seat behind the podium looking anything but joyful. A frown was branded on his stony face. His thumb pressed against each finger in his right hand, over and over. Perhaps he was worried about his participation in a ceremony dedicating a project that a dozen Apache medicine men oppose.
Or maybe it was the federal indictment that came down last week in U.S. District Court in Tucson, charging him with embezzling funds from the Apache tribe. That indictment, in turn, could have revived memories of his conviction last year in Apache Tribal Court on 14 counts of embezzlement.
With the Vatican telescope fully blessed by a disgraced tribal leader, the ceremony turned to Germany's $8 million radio telescope.
Dr. Wolfgang Hasenclever of the Max Planc Institute praised UofA "for the way you people in your country take things into your own hands," an apparent reference to the university's success in its $1 million lobbying effort before Congress. That lobbying helped exempt the telescope project from the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
The Max Planc Institute is so pleased with the UofA that it is considering expanding its investment on Mount Graham to become a desperately needed fourth partner in the UofA's Large Binocular Telescope. Two major German universities in Heidelberg and in Munich also are considering joining Max Planc in the LBT, an astronomer close to the project says.
The dedication Saturday christened the smallest two telescopes planned for the mountain's Emerald Peak. The $60 million Large Binocular Telescope is still on the drawing boards and short of funds.
So far, the UofA and the Arcetri Observatory in Italy have committed $15 million each to the LBT, which would be one of the largest optical telescopes in the world. Tucson-based Research Corporation, a foundation supporting scientific research, has committed up to $7.5 million.
Obtaining additional funding is crucial not only to the LBT, but to the operation of the two telescopes dedicated Saturday. The LBT is expected to provide the lion's share of the operating funds for the remote mountain, where snow removal costs more than $150,000 each winter and water and fuel to power generators must be trucked up the mountain.