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Montauk Observatory seeks home for $30G telescope

Dr Mike Inglis, left, Terry Bienstock, and Sean

Dr Mike Inglis, left, Terry Bienstock, and Sean Tvelia stand with the Meade telescope in Montauk. Credit: Doug Kuntz

The $30,000 telescope a Montauk astronomy group bought is a marvel, a high-powered instrument for seeing deep into space from the darkness of Long Island's eastern tip.

Now, it just needs a home.

For four years, the nonprofit Montauk Observatory has raised money to put up a building it designed to house the telescope. They're asking Suffolk County to let them put it in Theodore Roosevelt Park in Montauk or another South Fork park and have scaled back the project to satisfy officials.

And this week, with the Perseid meteor shower attracting the attention of Islanders who normally don't think about physics, volunteers will wheel out the 800-pound Meade telescope Saturday night so the public can visit the observatory that doesn't exist.

"This kind of event raises awareness and connects people with the universe," said observatory education director Tom Madigan of Patchogue.

The problems arose even before the telescope arrived in 2006. Suffolk demanded the group get a $1 million liability policy. For a while, it also requested that revenue from the telescope go through the county, even though the observatory won't charge admission.

"Dealing with the government is a slow, plodding process," said Terry Bienstock, a Miami software executive who summers in Montauk. Donors are already willing to help raise $50,000 to $100,000, he added.

"The county isn't even paying a penny, but unfortunately, they've been an obstacle," said County Legis. Jay Schneiderman (R-Montauk).

Deputy county executive Ben Zwirn blames money problems as well as misunderstandings. But he added that the county worries it will end up paying for maintenance or other costs.

Saturday, the organizers hope for clear skies and a politics-free evening. "A lot of people attribute their interest in astronomy to the first time they saw beautiful meteors streaking against the sky," Madigan said.

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