It was time for Michael Schwartz to get even.
The day before he had been arrested in downtown Tucson at a Catholic church. Tucson plainclothes detective Tony Batelli had told parishioners running an arts and crafts bazaar that Schwartz was an activist opposed to the University of Arizona's construction of telescopes on Mount Graham.
Vatican astronomers are partners in the telescope project. Even though Schwartz, an artist, was simply seeking entry to the fair, pious parishioners of Saint Augustine's could not tolerate the presence of someone who voiced opposition to papal undertakings. Church members had Batelli arrest a bewildered Schwartz for criminal trespassing.
Twenty-four hours later, October 12, 1992, Schwartz was incredulous to see the same longhaired, bearded Batelli inside University of Arizona's Steward Observatory, working undercover and mingling with 150 demonstrators who had gathered on Columbus Day. The protesters had converged on the astronomy department once again to object to an international effort headed by UofA to build up to seven telescopes on Mount Graham, an environmentally sensitive peak looming above the town of Safford in southeast Arizona.
What happened next was recorded by Schwartz's video camera. On the videotape, Schwartz can be heard yelling, "There's a man in here who wants to take away my video camera. He arrested me yesterday. He's a large gentleman with a beard. If you would like to step forward at this time and discuss the matter, we challenge you to do so."
Batelli is quickly surrounded by demonstrators eager to get a good look at the spy.
"Please clear the way so you can see this man," Schwartz says as he zooms his lens in on Batelli, who attempts to obstruct the camera with his hand.
Batelli glances up a staircase, hoping for a quick escape from the humiliation of having his cover blown. Suddenly, Batelli's handgun falls to the floor. The clatter of metal striking tile sends gasps through the room.
"He's got a gun. Please be careful," Schwartz says in a steady monotone.
Batelli recovers his Glock pistol and turns his face from the crowd, never identifying himself. It isn't until a Tucson lawyer approaches and inspects an identification badge Batelli had pulled from beneath his shirt that everyone knows he is an undercover detective.
"Solidarity!" yells Schwartz, in celebration of the unmasking of the officer. His whoop triggers a nonviolent demonstration, featuring drumming, chanting, singing and clapping, that ends in a six-minute melee when the UofA police tries to arrest protesters.
Batelli's exposure ended his eight-month infiltration of at least two groups opposed to the international telescope project. Activists were suspicious of Batelli from day one, when he showed up for a vegetarian potluck rally with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Protesters say Batelli went so far as to suggest they commit acts of sabotage.
To those intimate with the saga of the Mount Graham telescope project, the emergence of an undercover cop spying upon and allegedly inciting students to violence is hardly a surprise. Batelli--who was working in conjunction with university administrators--is symptomatic of the zeal with which the university has pursued its grand design atop the 10,720-foot peak.
And Batelli's unmasking came at a time when new, formidable obstacles to the project were becoming evident: Financing is uncertain. The project lacks a necessary fourth partner to complete the centerpiece of the observatory--the Large Binocular Telescope. Location is also up in the air; university scientists have made an astonishing admission that they erred in selecting one site on Mount Graham and now, at the last minute, want to move the LBT to another peak. The project faces intense opposition from Indians and there are renewed concerns over endangered species.
For the university, the stakes are, appropriately, astronomical. The Mount Graham International Observatory is far more than just another scientific endeavor. The university's prestige as a major American research institution is on the line.
Science and prestige are part of the picture, but to fully grasp the sense of desperation that has fueled the university's efforts from the start, one must understand the most important element: money.
UofA has a fortune at risk atop Mount Graham. A minimum of $10 million dollars a year in research grants generated by the university's astronomy department--with more to come if the project is completed--is at stake.
During the 1990-91 academic year, the astronomy department netted $29.1 million in grants, second only to UofA's College of Medicine, which received $68 million. Grants are any university's mother lode. They not only help fund research by specific departments, but up to 50 percent of a grant can be used by the university administration for other purposes, according to UofA vice president of research Michael Cusanovich.
Educators often complain about the big-buck influence of college athletics. But the sports programs are Little Leaguers compared with the astronomy department. Last year, UofA's football team netted only $2.6 million, while the men's basketball team, a perennial national power, brought in $1.6 million. The entire athletic department budget is $14 million.
The average UofA astronomer, meanwhile, brings in more than $400,000 a year in grants. The stars, literally, underwrite many activities on the Wildcat campus.
The astronomy department sees itself as the engine for other scientific endeavors at UofA. Developments in astronomy have impacts in applied physics, chemistry, optics, electronics and computer sciences, UofA astronomer Neville Woolf says.
UofA astronomy played a key role in Star Wars. Developing lightweight mirrors--one of UofA's focuses--was an essential component to the scaled-back Strategic Defense Initiative. University officials have seen that funding dry up with the end of the Cold War, so without the Large Binocular Telescope and its $10 million in mirror contract orders, there is fear that the university's $24 million mirror lab will also collapse.
University officials claim the key to the future of UofA's astronomy department rests atop Mount Graham. "Mount Graham is the only way ground-based astronomy will advance in the state at the cutting-edge level," says Peter Strittmatter, director of Steward Observatory.
The university's eagerness to protect the astronomy department's cash flow, and remain on the "cutting edge" of science, has led to cutting corners on a colossal scale. Undercover cops busting students is only the most recent example of UofA's ruthlessness.
Traditional environmental groups, such as the Audubon Society, are still seething because UofA convinced Congress in 1988 to exempt the telescope project from the National Environmental Policy Act. The political arm-twisting began after it became clear that the telescopes would jeopardize survival of the endangered Mount Graham red squirrel, a species that exists nowhere else. UofA spent $1 million lobbying for the exemption.
The single common thread running through every chapter of the telescope-development chronology is the university's obsession to press forward--civil liberties, environmental laws and religious freedoms be damned.
"Basically, the university is a pariah," says Peter Warshall, a UofA biologist who conducted a 1985 environmental impact study on Mount Graham.
"It has done everything possible to avoid law, rather than following it," says Warshall, who works at UofA's Office for Arid Land Studies. "There is no controversy to that. Rather than . . . trying to embrace the law, they have, you might say, taken the low road."
Warshall, a Fullbright scholar, knows well the intricate footwork UofA employed to sidestep environmental laws, which, properly enforced, would have barred telescopes from Mount Graham. It was Warshall's work that led to the designation of the Mount Graham red squirrel as an endangered species.
Even Congress' own watchdog, the General Accounting Office, has blasted the university for deceiving federal agencies. The GAO wrote to one congressman in 1990, "We believe information presented by the University is incomplete and misleading."
For a decade, UofA has steamrolled all opposition that threatens its cluster of telescopes atop Mount Graham. Its bullheaded effort has alienated other top astronomers who are angry that the university so blatantly placed its political and financial agenda ahead of solid science.
In the view of Roger Lynds, a nationally respected astronomer with the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, the Mount Graham project is all about "self-aggrandizement. . . . It's got nothing to do with science, technology and truth or the best use of taxpayers' money."
@body:The battle for Mount Graham began quietly enough in 1983 when Congress dropped part of Mount Graham out of a Wilderness Study Area and designated its top 3,500 acres as an astrophysical research area. UofA saw Mount Graham as a close, relatively inexpensive site to build a major observatory that would assure the university's international prominence in astronomy.
A year later, UofA asked Coronado National Forest for permission to build 18 telescopes scattered across Mount Graham on three peaks--Emerald Peak, Hawk Peak and High Peak.
Federal and state field biologists opposed development on the peaks because the area had been virtually untouched by man for 10,000 years. Mount Graham contained a "nearly pristine relic forest and meadow habitats that had been isolated through both time and space," according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
The U.S. Forest Service sought to avert a full-scale war by tentatively approving the construction of five telescopes--not 18--at High Peak, an area of less environmental significance, in 1986. UofA was outraged over the plan, saying five telescopes weren't enough to make the project financially viable.
With the battle lines becoming clearly drawn--telescopes versus forest--all that was needed was a defining moment for the troops to start firing. It came in June 1987 when federal biologists determined that the red squirrel, an eight-ounce rodent once thought extinct, was in fact only threatened with extinction. For UofA, this was the worst possible outcome; it triggered the nation's toughest environmental law, the Endangered Species Act.
The sniping escalated when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the Mount Graham red squirrel on the endangered species list. While UofA appealed to a sympathetic Arizona congressional delegation, environmentalists launched a grassroots counteroffensive in Arizona, garnering the support of 35 environmental organizations and the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
UofA told Congress it had lined up an impressive list of partners to build several telescopes on Mount Graham. UofA and Germany wanted to build a $7 million radiotelescope, and UofA and the Vatican were prepared to build a small, $3 million optical telescope. The backbone of the project, however, was a joint effort headed by UofA and involving Ohio State University and Italy's Arcetri Observatory: to build the world's largest optical telescope--the $60 million Large Binocular Telescope.
Although Congress approved construction of these telescopes on Emerald Peak while waiving provisions of a key environmental law, the project is far from a done deal. While the two small telescopes are nearing completion, the LBT, if it is built at all, may end up just being a single mirror telescope because of lack of funding.
Five years after Congress approved the project, the protracted battle over the Mount Graham International Observatory has extended well beyond the mountain, Tucson and Washington, D.C. There have been demonstrations against the telescopes on other U.S. campuses and even in Germany and at the Vatican.
It has become a test of nerves, and both sides are showing signs of strain. Many foes of the project have been worn to mental and physical exhaustion. The opposition torch has been passed on from one group to another as time, money and frustration take their toll.
The work of the protesters has not gone unnoticed by UofA. The university's desperation to keep the project alive has led to undercover operations, a top astronomer requesting the destruction of documents related to the project, and misleading statements to Congress.
The university sees itself as no different from any other business seeking approval of a controversial project. If an exemption is needed from a federal law, then there is no reason UofA shouldn't do what any corporation or special interest would do. "There is nothing unique about us in this situation," says UofA's Cusanovich.
If circumventing the nation's environmental laws in 1988 was the first indication of the extent to which the university was willing to play hardball, it was hardly the most alarming.
More recently, UofA administrators tried to deceive their own Board of Regents in an action that one regent branded as "unconscionable."
@body:Not long after UofA President Manuel Pacheco took office in July 1991, he approved a no-bid contract for Booz, Allen & Hamilton Inc., an international management consulting firm, to conduct a $37,000 study on the university's role in the Mount Graham telescope project. The goal of the study was to provide Pacheco with an independent assessment.
The report was completed on October 23, 1991, and two months later, a Phoenix environmentalist, Dr. Robin Silver, filed a public records request seeking a copy. UofA released a heavily edited copy of the report to Silver on January 13, 1992. Four days later, a different, but still heavily condensed, version of the Booz report was presented to the Board of Regents as the regents were preparing to decide whether to continue supporting the telescope project.
University officials told the regents they couldn't release all the information contained in the Booz report because it would be damaging to UofA in several pending lawsuits filed by the San Carlos Apaches, the Sierra Club and to ongoing negotiations concerning Ohio State University's desire to withdraw as a partner in the LBT. The board accepted that explanation, except for state Superintendent of Public Instruction C. Diane Bishop.
What UofA gave the regents was a 12-page, sanitized, upbeat version of what was really going on. The full story didn't come out until March 1993, when the complete, uncensored, 42-page Booz report finally was released under court order to Silver, who had sued UofA for full disclosure. The uncensored report--while recommending that UofA move forward with the telescope project--portrays an administrative fiasco with serious problems including:
"The project's reputation is quite damaged--many scientists believe it is all but dead."
There are "financial risks associated with the mirror lab," which builds the optics for the telescopes, including the necessity to secure "cash flow to fund mirror casting."
There is "potential for a national-scale Indian battle" over native rights and beliefs.
The "fund-raising plan for [the LBT] must be revamped." Data provided to the regents in the condensed report are occasionally contradicted by the full Booz document. For example, the condensed version given to the regents states that UofA's "mirror technology should produce larger mirrors at lower cost than alternative means." The full report raises serious questions of whether the mirror lab could produce the large mirrors at the projected costs and notes "if the costs are out of line with expectations, your exposure could be quite high--as you have contracted to provide the mirror and have not agreed to share any cost overruns."
Bishop remains outraged by the university's presentation of a one-sided report. "I think it was unconscionable. I think it was unethical," Bishop says.
The regents, she says, were not given adequate information prior to voting 8-2 to continue the project. She believes the vote might have been different if the university had laid all its cards on the table.
Other regents disagree with Bishop's harsh assessment. Board president Andrew Hurwitz said the university's reasons for withholding the information were valid. He also said the full report was available to regents to review in closed session.
Regent Eddie Basha calls the university's censorship of the report "ludicrous" and "a mistake," but he still favors the telescopes. "I think it is still very viable," he says.
Perhaps the most damaging item withheld from the regents and the public was unearthed by Silver's lawsuit: Booz, Allen & Hamilton expressed concern that UofA's financing plan for the LBT was "possibly illegal."
@body:Days before the university presented its doctored Booz report to the Board of Regents in January 1992, UofA special counsel Jacqueline Schneider asked the university's bond counsel and financial advisers to review portions of the full report. Schneider was particularly concerned about references in the Booz document to an illegal bond plan.
UofA's bond counsel, Chapman and Cutler, responded to Schneider's concerns by letter on January 9, 1992--one week before the crucial regents meeting. The firm assured Schneider that it believed UofA and other users of the telescopes "have always intended to meet all state and federal income tax laws applicable to the financing."
The letter was meant to ease worries over the uncensored Booz report, which said: "The concept of using bonds, investing part of the funds/fund-raising monies to pay them off and provide an annuity is unduly complicated, risky, and possibly illegal." Even with the bond counsel's assurances, UofA elected to keep Booz's damaging assessment from the regents and the public.
It is impossible to know with certainty how Booz decided that the bonding scheme may be illegal. New Times' efforts to contact Robert Moeller, the author of the Booz report who now works in Singapore, were unsuccessful. But the university financing plan presented to the regents on June 4, 1991--four months before the Booz study--provides clues as to where Moeller may have found problems.
According to the university's financing plan, a $4 million shortfall in the early years of the project would be repaid through a controversial tax-exempt bond manipulation. The project required the creation of a nonprofit Columbus Corporation to sell $15 million in tax-exempt bonds to help build the LBT. UofA would then raise money from the private sector to repay the bonds.
Under the plan, the Columbus Corporation was projected to sell the tax-exempt bonds at 7.5 percent interest rate. UofA would then invest $5 million of the bond proceeds in a special account at a projected interest rate of 8 percent. Interest earned from the $5 million account was earmarked to help repay the $15 million bond.
Such an investment--in which money is raised at one interest rate and reinvested at a higher rate--is often referred to as arbitrage. While it's not certain this is what the Booz report was concerned with, federal tax law generally prohibits investors from making money off reinvestment of tax-exempt bonds. If money raised from a tax-exempt bond sale is reinvested at a higher interest rate, the difference between the two interest rates must be paid to the federal government. This provision is intended to prevent schemes in which money is raised through tax-exempt bonds but never invested in the project it was intended to fund.
Bishop says the regents should have been told that the Booz report suggested fundamental problems with the university's financing plan.
"Just because it may cast a cloud on the university's financing system I think is no reason to try to cover it up," Bishop says. "I think you say, mistakes have been made, there is a potential problem, we're going to confront that and deal with it. It's the whole aura of cover-up that's been troubling to me about this whole affair."
UofA has since dropped its plan to create the special $5 million fund--although Cusanovich says it had nothing to do with the Booz report. He says the plan was scrapped a year ago because the university is confident it can raise the private funds to repay the $15 million bond even faster than first projected. No money has been raised to date.
Before the entire Booz report was released under court order, the university vigorously contested Silver's lawsuit, applying some contradictory logic. Its lawyers argued that although UofA considered the Booz financing assessment inaccurate, release of the negative financial information would damage the state. UofA argued that the information would cost UofA more than $100,000 because potential bond buyers would demand a higher return because of greater perceived risk.
Asked why UofA fought to keep the full report secret, Cusanovich replies, "Why should we waste a few hundred grand to keep Silver happy?"
But Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Hutt rejected UofA's arguments and ordered the document released immediately. She also awarded $5,000 in attorney fees. But UofA didn't immediately release the report.
Instead, UofA's financial adviser, Bruce D. Kelley of Rauscher, Pierce Refsnes Inc., contacted Moeller, the author of the Booz report, in Singapore. In a March 9 letter, Kelley stated UofA does not plan to invest "borrowed funds at a higher yield than the interest rates on the borrowed funds [arbitrage]. That is not, nor has it been, the financing plan."
With this information in hand, Moeller quickly backed off his earlier assessment. He fired off a letter, also dated March 9, to UofA President Pacheco, saying he had "no opinion on the approach actually being used and definitely would not apply any part of our report statements to our revised understanding of the . . . financing approach."
After getting all its ducks lined up to defuse potential damage from disclosure of the Booz report, UofA finally sent the uncensored version to Silver on March 11.
@body:As so often is the case when money and egos join forces, dreadful mistakes are made. That has happened. UofA officials now admit they screwed up. After years of study, they chose the wrong peak for their prize telescope.
UofA quietly announced last fall that it wanted to relocate the Large Binocular Telescope away from Mount Graham's Emerald Peak because the dense spruce-fir forest would distort images.
This was no small change. UofA exerted tremendous pressure on federal wildlife managers and Congress in 1988 to win approval to build the telescopes on Emerald Peak, in the heart of prime habitat for the red squirrel. Now the university wants to relocate the massive telescope to a one-acre site one-half mile to the west known simply as peak 10,298.
To justify the move, the university is taking an unusual tack. UofA astronomer Strittmatter now says there "is no such thing as Emerald Peak" because such a name doesn't appear on topographic maps. He says when Congress said UofA could build three telescopes on "Emerald Peak," the lawmakers really meant that telescopes could be built anywhere along a ridge running between 10,298 and the "nominal site," which is Strittmatter's new euphemism for Emerald Peak.
Strittmatter's convoluted explanation is meant to obfuscate the embarrassing fact that UofA astronomers now concede they relied on faulty data and "severely underestimated" the distortion caused by the forest when they determined in 1988 that Emerald Peak was the best site.
But rather than saying anything when it became clear two years later that Emerald Peak was not the best location for the LBT, UofA kept the information secret until road construction and site-clearing for the other two small telescopes were complete.
"They kept it secret so they could establish a beachhead on the mountain," says Bob Witzeman, a Maricopa Audubon Society member who has steadily fought the project.
UofA astronomer Woolf, who conducted the study that indicated Emerald Peak was the best site, blames bureaucratic delays for the two-year lag in disclosure of problems on Emerald Peak. But Strittmatter told GAO investigators as early as June 1990 that the university was "not firm on Emerald Peak" and that peak 10,298 "is our best guess now" for the location of the LBT, according to the transcript of a GAO interview with Strittmatter.
The error came as no surprise to some astronomers familiar with the mountain. Michael Merrill of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory says it was obvious years ago that the forest was ill-suited for a large optical telescope.
Merrill conducted studies on Mount Graham in the mid-1980s as part of a project to determine how an inland mountain compared with the best U.S. viewing site at Mauna Kea, Hawaii. While Mount Graham was considered an excellent site, Mauna Kea was far superior for a proposed 15-meter optical telescope. During the studies, Merrill says it became clear that the forest site would present problems.
"One of the conclusions we had come to was that the idea of being inside a forest in a clearing was not a good idea," Merrill says.
The problem has to do with the way warm and cool air mix in a mountaintop forest. Merrill says it appeared that a turbulent layer of warm and cold air forms just above treetops on Mount Graham, causing visual distortion that could affect a high-powered optical telescope such as the LBT.
Even Strittmatter now says it is fairly obvious that 10,298 is a better site than Emerald Peak. Asked why UofA wants to move the telescope, Strittmatter smiles and points out on a map that 10,298 was the westernmost point on a long ridge.
"It's the first place where the wind strikes the mountain, so it hits it cleanly," Strittmatter says, meaning a reduction of warm and cold mix.
The only way to overcome the treetop turbulence at Emerald Peak is to build a structure that would tower over the 60-foot-tall trees. A UofA report indicates the telescope would have to be housed in a 240-foot-tall structure for the viewing to be comparable to sites where there were fewer and shorter trees. The cost of building such a structure is prohibitive, hence UofA's request to move to 10,298.
Environmentalists have seized on the siting blunder and plan a campaign to prevent UofA from moving the LBT. Moving the telescope would open up another undisturbed area in the forest, further fragmenting the squirrel's habitat. It also opens the potential for UofA to request other isolated locations for four more planned telescopes.
"It's a guaranteed lawsuit if the Forest Service allows them to move," says Silver.
If UofA can't move the telescope to 10,298, it faces a dilemma. It must either build a much taller, more costly telescope or stay at Emerald Peak with the currently designed building, settling for an inferior location for the university's "world-class" telescope.
"They are in a very difficult position," Merrill says.
@body:While UofA insists all is well with the project, there are signs of internal stress fractures. Although two small telescopes are nearing completion, opponents believe the project will collapse unless UofA is successful in building the $60 million (1989 dollars) LBT.
The LBT would incorporate the latest mirror technology being developed by UofA's mirror lab. Housed beneath the western grandstand of UofA's football stadium, the mirror lab, which was once funded largely by the Air Force Weapons Laboratory and National Science Foundation, will probably go under unless the LBT is built. One indication of the lab's cash-flow problems emerged when it borrowed, and failed to repay, $5 million from the university's building fund.
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."
UofA assistant police chief Harry Hueston confirms that the university has arrested leaders of opposition groups, but only because they had committed crimes. The Pima County Attorney's Office stepped up the pressure after the Columbus Day demonstration by announcing that a grand jury was reviewing television and police videotapes of a six-minute confrontation during which UofA officers began arresting demonstrators inside Steward Observatory.
Even more worrisome, Gattone says, are witnesses who claim that undercover detective Tony Batelli encouraged members of opposition groups such as Earth First! and the Student Environmental Action Coalition to commit crimes.
In April 1992, Batelli attended an anti-telescope forum at UofA's Gallagher Theater and suggested to a UofA student leader that the two of them "engage in some nightwork" on the mountain. "If you need any help, just let me know," the activist says Batelli told him.
"I told him, 'Don't even talk to me about that,'" says Hodges, the national director of the coalition.
"Nightwork" is a euphemism Edward Abbey used in his novels to describe creative sabotage of development in wilderness areas.
Tucson police refuse to comment on claims by telescope opponents that Batelli tried to incite them to take illegal actions. However, one of the protesters, Indian leader Guy Lopez, says Tucson police Sergeant Kathy Robinson told him there was nothing wrong with Batelli suggesting illegal actions because police wanted to know how far protesters were willing to go.
The only arrests made during Batelli's undercover tenure resulted from nonviolent civil disobedience during demonstrations on and off the UofA campus. In all but two occasions, the charges, typically criminal trespass and disturbing the peace, were dismissed.
UofA officials claim they were not aware of Batelli's undercover role. Jay Parker, a retired Army intelligence general from Fort Huachuca who now oversees UofA's police department, told regents last November that UofA didn't learn of the Tucson Police Department undercover operation until Batelli was unmasked at the demonstration.
But other university officials, including assistant dean of students Barbara Vito, say that the UofA and Tucson police departments, along with undercover detectives, met before the Columbus Day protest last October and exchanged pictures of protesters who had been arrested at an earlier demonstration.
Batelli's actions after his exposure also suggest that UofA and Tucson police were cooperating. A videotape made outside the observatory that day shows Batelli with UofA assistant police chief Harry Hueston, who has his arm around Batelli's shoulder as the two walk slowly away, heads bowed, talking.
New Times submitted a request for Tucson police records of Batelli's undercover work. The department claims no written records exist. Yet in a police-transcribed interview of one demonstrator who complained about Batelli's actions, the department's internal affairs officer, Sergeant Robinson, confirms that "we're gathering intelligence" on telescope foes.
@body:Steel bars drape the windows and doors of Robin Silver's comfortable, north Phoenix home. There are motion detectors and alarms throughout the interior. Two large, fireproof safes hold his most important documents and negatives. Silver, an emergency room physician at Saint Joseph's Hospital, says he's not being paranoid. He knows he's a target. He believes UofA wants to shut him up.
What should be his living room is really his environmental nerve center. The room is jammed with at least 20 file cabinets, copy and fax machines, desks and mountains of paper. The telephone never stops ringing as Silver answers questions from reporters from across the country and gives instructions to lawyers building environmental cases.
No one has been a bigger thorn in the side of UofA on Mount Graham than Silver. Fueled by the competitive fire that earned him a tennis scholarship to UofA 20 years ago, Silver is focused and energetic. He's determined to win a battle, which he sees as simply a war between good and evil.
"They are whores," Silver said, summing up his feelings toward UofA administrators and astronomers.
Silver says UofA has sold its soul to feed the ego of a handful of astronomers and administrators who want the university to lay claim to a mythical title as the top astronomy department in the world. To get there, UofA is willing to jeopardize an endangered species and chop up what's left of North America's southernmost spruce-fir forest.
Silver says the university will stop at nothing, including arresting him for taking pictures at the Columbus Day demonstration last October.
An accomplished photographer whose photos of rare species have appeared in numerous publications, Silver was photographing the Steward Observatory demonstration when he was arrested by two UofA police officers on trespassing charges. At the time of his arrest, videotapes show he was not participating in the demonstration, but merely documenting the event. The charges were later dismissed, but Silver has filed a $1 million wrongful arrest claim against the university.
University officials paint Silver and other opponents of the project as wackos with nothing better to do than harass UofA. School administrator Cusanovich calls Silver and his allies modern-day "Luddites," a term referring to a 19th-century antitechnology movement led by hay cutters who objected to mechanized harvesters that displaced their jobs.
"Part of the agenda of the environmental movement is to oppose and object to development anywhere," Cusanovich said.
Silver counters: "They are destroying one of the world's most well-known biological laboratories. Only they don't give ground science or earth science the same respect as they show astronomical sciences."
@body:Perched near the summit of Mount Graham, the Large Binocular Telescope would open new vistas of exploration for astronomers peering into the deepest regions of space. At the same time, the LBT would serve as a time machine, catapulting astronomers back billions of years to the infancy of the universe.
Because it takes years for light from the closest star to reach Earth, whatever images the LBT detects are but reflections of a galaxy, star or planet eons ago. The twin mirrors would detect images billions of years old.
The LBT is unique among all other optical telescopes now in use or on the drawing board. Since it is designed to work like giant binoculars, it is expected to generate extremely detailed images. This would prove useful in exploring emerging solar systems, studying the rotation of stars and planets and discovering new planets outside our solar system.
The LBT also would be mounted with the largest, most sensitive mirrors ever made. The extraordinary light-collecting ability of the mirrors would allow construction of a short, squat telescope rather than the traditional long tube with a mirror. Besides saving money on the building and operating costs, the "fast" mirrors would allow astronomers to look at much larger areas of space at one time, greatly increasing chances of discovering new planets.
"The whole character of using telescopes changes once you get the large area of sky," UofA astronomer Woolf says.
"I can't sit here and tell you what the new discoveries are going to be," says Buddy Powell, associate director of Steward Observatory. "But we believe it will play a very significant role in looking for planets, studying evolving galaxies and star formation."
Astronomers also would use the LBT to look at infrared light that is invisible to the eye. Infrared astronomy is a relatively new discipline that has attracted much attention in the last 20 years because it allows astronomers to see through interstellar dust and clouds. Astronomers hope to find planets in early stages of formation by using the LBT's infrared capabilities.
The LBT also offers one major, nonscientific advantage over competing large telescopes: It is much cheaper to build. The LBT price tag is $60 million to $70 million for its twin, 8.4-meter mirrors, mount and enclosure. By comparison, the Gemini Project, an international effort to build two separate 8.4-meter telescopes, one each in the northern and southern hemispheres, will cost $177 million. The key to the LBT's low cost is the mirrors, which UofA claims it can build for millions of dollars less than other designs.
UofA mirror lab director Roger Angel has developed a revolutionary technology that allows large, honeycombed mirrors to be built economically. The honeycomb mirrors are sturdy enough to hold their shapes to precise tolerances, yet are light enough to adapt to temperature changes that would cause distortions.
The face of the LBT's mirrors would be polished at the mirror lab to near perfection, to one-millionth of an inch of optimum design. To imagine this precision, picture a telescope mirror that stretches from Texas to Minnesota. The variance on the shape of the mirror would be no more than one-quarter inch.
Another important feature is proximity. Mount Graham's summit is a three-hour drive from UofA's Tucson campus. A paved road already existed most of the way up the mountain, which is isolated from city lights that have diminished the usefulness of UofA telescopes at Kitt Peak and Mount Hopkins. Technical factors also made Mount Graham a good perch, although not the best spot in the Southwest, for a major observatory.
These factors--location, access and technical features--make Mount Graham a much cheaper place to operate a premier observatory compared to the best U.S. site at Mauna Kea, Hawaii.
While the LBT would be the backbone of the Mount Graham International Observatory, two other telescopes are nearing completion on Mount Graham's Emerald Peak. Germany's Max Planck Observatory and UofA are building an $8 million submillimeter telescope that is expected to break new ground in radio astronomy.
UofA also has teamed with the Vatican to build a 1.8-meter optical/infrared telescope that is serving as a prototype for the LBT.
While the Catholic Church has a history of ignoring science that rebuts religious doctrine, Vatican astronomers have been looking at the night skies for more than four centuries from an observatory near Rome. But light pollution chased the Jesuit astronomers out of Italy to UofA's Steward Observatory in 1981. When the chance came to build a small but powerful telescope on Mount Graham in the mid-1980s, the Vatican jumped. Beginning in September, Jesuit astronomers will scan the skies from Mount Graham. They hope to find new planets and signs of life. If such a discovery is made, the priests will be ready to launch the greatest of all missionary expeditions.
Father George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory, told the London Daily Telegraph last fall that if the Vatican comes across life in space, the Church "would be obliged to address the question of whether extraterrestrials might be brought within the fold and baptized."
The Church would ask any new beings it stumbles across in outer space whether he/she/it has ever experienced something similar to "Adam and Eve" and whether the aliens "know a Jesus who has redeemed you."
With religious pursuits tied to an international observatory that has the potential of generating tens of millions of dollars in grants to UofA each year, it comes as little surprise that UofA officials are taking extraordinary precautions to protect vital information--including requests for destruction of documents.
In October 1991--after Ohio State withdrew its $15 million from the LBT project--Steward Observatory director Strittmatter held discussions with Father Coyne about the possibility of the Vatican becoming a full partner in the LBT.
On October 18, 1991, Strittmatter sent a memo stamped "confidential" on university stationery to top UofA administrators. The communiqu outlined the Vatican's possible role in the project and attached a short letter Coyne had sent Strittmatter on the Vatican's possible LBT investment. Coyne's letter closed with a request that discussions be kept confidential.
Fearing that project opponents could hear about the potential new partner, Strittmatter asked UofA officials to destroy Coyne's letter after reading it.
Strittmatter--contacted in Florence, Italy, in early June while attending a meeting with Italian engineers who are partners in the LBT--says he asked UofA administrators to destroy the letter "to protect people who otherwise would have been invaded with loads of rubbish" and "misinformation" from project opponents.
Ironically, the memo was intercepted by Mount Graham opponents. Strittmatter says it wasn't the first or last time project documents have vanished or leaked to the opposition.
"When things disappear from people's desktops and all sorts of other things, you have to be careful," Strittmatter says.
Cusanovich adds that UofA officials sometimes drop disinformation into communications it believes opponents are monitoring.
While Cusanovich says Strittmatter's request to destroy the document "was inappropriate," he's not always the most diligent recordkeeper.
When asked in a May public-records request by Silver whether there were any university records concerning the Vatican's possible role in the project, Cusanovich said there were not, leading Silver to believe UofA had followed Strittmatter's request and destroyed the records. Yet in a subsequent interview with New Times, Cusanovich says a copy of Strittmatter's "please destroy" memo still exists.
Asked why it wasn't given to Silver when he asked about Vatican documents, Cusanovich said the memo wasn't in the Vatican file, but in a fund-raising file.
"He asked about the Vatican, so I pulled the Vatican file, right?" Cusanovich says, laughing, before quickly adding that he only recently remembered that the memo had been placed in the fund-raising file.
@body:UofA astronomers like Peter Strittmatter can't understand why environmentalists are raising such a ruckus over the survival of the Mount Graham red squirrel. Strittmatter is certain the squirrel will survive UofA's telescope development. His basis for the assessment is straightforward. "People and squirrels live together fine," he says.
At first, the astronomer's assessment seems acceptable. But his casual conclusion distorts the complexity of the debate and the squirrel's precarious position.
The Mount Graham red squirrel is making its final stand on the high ridges of the Pinaleno Mountains, which includes Mount Graham. The Pinalenos are the highest range south of the Mogollon Rim. Its 10,720-foot peak at Mount Graham ascends more steeply than any mountain range in Arizona, towering more than 7,000 feet above the Gila River Valley to the east and the Sulphur Springs Valley to the west.
The sharp relief provides a variety of habitats for plants and animals, ranging from Sonoran Desert scrub to alpine spruce-fir forest near the summit, making the mountain rich in biodiversity. It is home to one of the state's largest black-bear populations. The range is also somewhat of a melting pot for plants, serving as the northernmost extension of vegetation more common to Mexico and the southernmost terminus for flora from the Colorado Plateau.
With the end of the Ice Age 10,000 years ago, the Pinalenos became an isolated range that some biologists call "sky islands." One of the 18 species of plants, insects and animals found nowhere else on Earth but in the Pinaleno Mountains is the Mount Graham red squirrel.
While it is difficult to determine exactly how many red squirrels remain, there is no doubt that the subspecies is on the verge of extinction. Its numbers fluctuate annually between fewer than 100 and 350, depending on the quality of the cone crop from the spruce-fir old-growth forest and mixed conifers at slightly lower elevation.
As an isolated subspecies with only one population, the Mount Graham red squirrel is inherently vulnerable to environmental catastrophes. Yet the squirrel has survived fires and disease outbreaks over its 10,000-year isolation. But the impacts arising from human activities in the Pinaleno Mountains since the 1880s have greatly reduced the ability of the squirrel to survive future natural disasters.
Once ranging over wide areas of the upper reaches of the Pinalenos, the red squirrels' niche has been greatly reduced by logging, road building, fires and the introduction of the Abert's squirrel by the Arizona Game and Fish Department in the 1940s. The red squirrel's prime habitat has been reduced to fewer than 615 acres of virgin spruce-fir forest. The conflict between the red squirrel and UofA comes down to one thing: management of this spruce-fir old-growth forest.
The red squirrel needs a continuous overstory of spruce-fir and mixed conifers to ensure its long-term survival. Openings in the forest allow more heat to penetrate to the forest floor, drying out pine cones stored in squirrel middens and increasing squirrel mortality. Openings also make the squirrel vulnerable to predators.
But the only way UofA could build its telescopes along the long ridge atop the Pinalenos was to open up parts of the spruce-fir forest. Roads needed to be built and land cleared for the telescope sites and support buildings.
The conflict came to a head on June 3, 1987, when the Mount Graham red squirrel was formally recognized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as endangered. The designation means Fish and Wildlife must look at any impact on federal lands that could threaten the "survival and recovery" of an endangered species.
There is no doubt among most biologists who have studied the red squirrel that it was already in a precarious state before any telescope construction occurred on the mountain. It was therefore no surprise that Fish and Wildlife and Arizona Game and Fish field biologists were opposed to any construction of telescopes in critical squirrel habitat. A 1987 Fish and Wildlife Service report stated "that because of the squirrel's low population levels, no reduced protection of important habitats could be supported biologically."
But biology wasn't going to stop UofA.
@body:Soon after the red squirrel was designated as endangered, UofA began holding a series of meetings with top officials of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Fish and Wildlife was the crucial agency because it would decide what, if any, development could take place on the mountain.
Pressure was exerted on Fish and Wildlife Service field biologists from their bosses to come up with a plan that would not only protect the red squirrel but also allow for UofA to build telescopes.
Fish and Wildlife field supervisor Sam Spiller and field biologist Lesley Fitzpatrick told General Accounting Office investigators that their superiors--regional director Michael Spear and deputy regional director Jim Young--had instructed them to come up with a preordained development alternative. Such an approach violated the Endangered Species Act, which requires biologists to issue a no-development plan if that is what is needed to protect the endangered species.
"They told Sam Spiller, my boss, that if his shop couldn't produce a BO [biological opinion] with a development option, then they would get someone else to do it," Fitzpatrick told GAO investigator Cheryl Williams in 1990.
Spiller told Sierra Club attorneys in a deposition that he was instructed to prepare a biological opinion in late May 1988 that would permit the telescope project to be placed on the relatively flat and wide Emerald Peak. The order came after Spear and Young held another meeting with UofA officials.
Emerald Peak is located in a dense, tall stand of spruce and fir. Its importance to the red squirrel's survival was well-known. "Several federal and state reports had concluded that constructing the facility on Emerald Peak presented an unacceptable risk to the red squirrel's survival," a GAO report states. But in July 1988, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a biological opinion on the proposed telescope's impact on the red squirrel. The opinion included three options: Build the telescopes on another mountain, locate the facility on Mount Graham's more degraded High Peak, or allow the construction of three telescopes on Emerald Peak if the university took more than a dozen actions to mitigate its impact.
UofA picked up the ball and ran with the third option straight to Arizona's congressional delegation. UofA wanted Congress to suspend the National Environmental Policy Act and allow the project to proceed with three telescopes on Emerald Peak.
The delegation, led by Representative Jim Kolbe and senators Dennis DeConcini and John McCain, rammed the provision through Congress in October 1988. No university had ever sought an exemption from NEPA, and the House's most powerful environmentalist, former Arizona Representative Morris Udall, held his nose and voted for the exemption.
Once the law was passed, the university was in the driver's seat. When problems came up, it could rely on McCain and U.S. Forest Service chief Dale Robertson to clear the way.
According to GAO field reports obtained by Silver through public-records requests, McCain and Robertson reached an "understanding" that the Forest Service would do nothing to "stand in the way" of the telescope project.
The McCain-Robertson deal came into force in May 1989, when Coronado Forest officials balked at issuing a road permit to UofA because of a precipitous decline in the red squirrel population over the winter.
But Coronado Forest supervisor Jim Abbott's roadblock was abruptly lifted after he met on May 18, 1989, with McCain, Kolbe and DeConcini. According to the GAO field reports, McCain "read the Forest Service staff the riot act" for considering a move to delay the telescope project. McCain reportedly chastised the agency for dragging its feet and at one point told Abbott that "if he did not cooperate on this project, he would be the shortest-tenured Forest Service supervisor in history."
The meeting concluded with McCain telling Forest Service staffers to make sure his feelings on the matter got back to Robertson. The next day, the Forest Service rejected environmental requests to issue a stay in building the road.
(Silver's sleuthing in 1991 exposed the fact that although field reports contained references to the McCain-Robertson agreement, the official GAO report presented in 1990 to Congress made no mention of the deal. The GAO report had been requested by McCain and DeConcini.)
Abbott tells New Times his job was never threatened by McCain nor has he ever been pressured to make decisions that unfairly favored the telescope project.
UofA officials say they are pleased to have the support of Congress and claim environmentalists brought the problem on themselves by crying wolf.
"The environmentalists had misused the laws to stop a project with no significant environmental effect," Strittmatter says.
But the bulk of evidence suggests otherwise.
Two years after UofA won its NEPA exemption, Fish and Wildlife Service regional director Spear would appear before former U.S. Representative Gerry Studds' House subcommittee and make a startling statement. Spear testified that he had no biological information that supported building telescopes on Emerald Peak and that he made his decision based on nonbiological factors, including UofA's insistence that Emerald Peak was the only viable site for the observatory.
Spear's admission--that there was no biological foundation in his decision to allow telescopes to be built on Emerald Peak--at first appeared to strike a fatal blow for UofA's project. Studds asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to prepare a "biological update" to see if the project should continue.
The Fish and Wildlife Service issued a hastily prepared report on August 1, 1990, that recommended the entire project be reviewed to make sure it was not posing a threat to the squirrel.
But the Fish and Wildlife Service could only recommend that the issue be reconsidered. The Forest Service, which controlled the mountain, objected. The question was then tossed to a Department of Justice attorney, who rejected the Fish and Wildlife Service assessment without issuing a written explanation.
@body:Coronado Forest supervisor Jim Abbott, who was read the "riot act" by McCain in 1989, will determine where the LBT would be built. Abbott has set up an informal committee to review UofA's request and analyze potential impacts of moving the LBT to peak 10,289. He will use the committee's report to help make an administrative decision on UofA's request this month.
What UofA hopes to avoid is a full-blown environmental impact statement. Any formal review would take UofA back to square one, raising questions about the propriety of building any telescopes at all. Abbott declined to discuss whether an environmental impact statement would be necessary.
UofA biologist Peter Warshall says the university and its allies are up to the same old tricks and will rely on Abbott and a compliant Forest Service to clear the way. Warshall said Abbott's informal committee will probably allow UofA to sidestep an environmental impact statement.
"This committee is working outside the law in order to avoid public input and to avoid any possibility that the law will actually be used," Warshall says.
In the wake of the embarrassing discovery that the LBT was sited on the wrong peak, UofA astronomers are brazenly attempting to revise history and shift the blame for the Emerald Peak selection to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency whose field and district biologists opposed construction there.
"They put us down into this area on the basis that putting us together [in a cluster on Emerald Peak] would be more appropriate for the red squirrel," UofA astronomer Neville Woolf says.
According to Woolf, Fish and Wildlife Service biologists "didn't realize that they put us in a place where there is maximum impact on the squirrel." UofA, he says magnanimously, is "giving them a chance to recoup" from their mistake.
"I don't really know what they're talking about," says Fitzpatrick, the Fish and Wildlife field biologist who has been involved in Mount Graham studies from the beginning. UofA and the Forest Service, not Fish and Wildlife, demanded Emerald Peak, she insists.
She is not surprised by UofA's attempt to rewrite history. "Looking back over the last few years, I can only say they have been interesting people to work with," she says.
UofA also is suddenly taking a position that it is deeply concerned about the welfare of its longtime nemesis, the red squirrel. The university is claiming that moving the telescope to the new peak would lessen the impact on the squirrels because the area has fewer and smaller trees than the present site.
"You're helping everything," Woolf says. "You're helping the forest, the astronomers and the squirrel all at the same time."
According to Warshall, it is impossible to tell whether the squirrel would be better off with the new site until biologists independent from UofA's astronomy department review the situation.
"Until the data is made public," says Warshall, "and the public is given three months to go over it carefully and also to do field work, there is no way we can believe them."
Environmentalists claim UofA can remove the telescopes from Mount Graham for less than $2 million and find more suitable sites elsewhere. But the Board of Regents, which has ultimate say over the project, isn't ready to give up yet.
"To say there are problems and we should probably walk away throws away a big investment not only on the mountain, but also at the university," says Andrew Hurwitz, regents president. "That's a decision a lot tougher for a trustee than for somebody who just says, 'I don't like the project because of this environmental problem.'"
In the convoluted battle over Mount Graham, the story takes one final twist.
Environmentalists are eager to open another front against the project by raising the issue of the Mexican spotted owl. The owl, largely through Silver's efforts, was included on the endangered species list earlier this year. Environmentalists are demanding that federal biologists stop the telescope project until its impacts on the owl are determined.
Environmentalists reason that if the squirrel is jeopardized by the telescopes, so, too, is the owl.
One of the Mexican spotted owl's favorite meals is none other than the Mount Graham red squirrel.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.