Three Facts, Three Questions

Posted by Miwa at Nov 12, 2010 12:35 AM |
Here are 3 facts and 3 questions about Mauna Kea, that we hope will get you thinking and talking about the kind of future YOU'D like to see for this wahi pana.
Three Facts, Three Questions

photo: D. MacGowan

A few weeks ago, the TMT (Thirty Meter Telescope) Corporation submitted their application for a Conservation District Use Permit for their proposed telescope development, and accompanying office building, road and parking lot. If approved, this development will represent the largest expansion of industrial land use on Mauna Kea’s summit in over a decade. You can download the application here:

Public hearings on the TMT permit application will be held on December 2 (Hawaii County Council Room, Hilo) and December 3 (NELHA Gateway Center). More hearing info at:

We’re still reading through the documents, and we’ll be back with our comments and analysis soon. In the meantime, we wanted to share 3 facts, and 3 questions about the current paradigm of managment and decision-making on Mauna Kea:

- There exists a Mauna Kea Management Board, which is supposed to be like a community management entity. It is comprised of seven members of the community who are nominated by the UH Hilo Chancellor and approved by the UH Board of Regents. (see UH appoints 100% of the
members of this Management Board, while at the same time benefiting financially from accelerated telescope development, in what they claim to be a “correct and representative” process.

- Mauna Kea is currently being leased and subleased for $1/year. (Some of the sub-leases are gratis!) Hawaii law (HRS 171) says that “ceded” lands (crown lands) must be leased for fair-market value. We know that telescope “viewing time” can go for at least $80,000/night (this is what Yale recently agreed to pay in a $12 million dollar deal with the
Keck Observatory) How is $1/year fair-market value for the years of development that has already taken place? We are now being asked to consider further development, under an existing economic paradigm which does not conform to the law.

- No study has ever been conducted to assess the carrying capacity of the mountain for development. Further, the only cummulative study on the impacts of past development (an EIS conducted by NASA in 2005, as a result of litigation by OHA) found the cummulative impacts of telescope development on Mauna Kea to be “significant, substantial and adverse.” Hawaii state law prohibits permits for projects in conservation districts that cause significant and adverse harm.

Three Questions:
(1) What is the carrying capacity of the summit for development? How can we know, unless we study it?
(2) How intensely can we industrialize in the conservation district, before its meaning and purpose as conservation lands is lost?
(3) Are the current “economics” of telescope development ($1/year leases) leading to optimal allocation of resources between astronomy and cultural and natural resources? Who wins? Who loses?

*Take action for Mauna Kea and protection of Hawai`i’s sacred summits today! Sign the petition at:

Pu`u on Mauna Kea, covered in snow.

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