In Hilo, Feelings Mixed on 30-meter Telescope

By Nancy Cook Lauer
West Hawaii Today

HILO -- More than 100 people crowded into the County Council room Thursday for the first of two public hearings on a Conservation District Use permit application for the Thirty Meter Telescope.

A second hearing will begin at 6 p.m. today at the Gateway Center at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority.

It's not known when the Board of Land and Natural Resources will vote on the application. If the permit application is approved, construction could begin by the end of 2011, with the telescope ready for commissioning by 2018.

Proponents and opponents were evenly divided among the almost 40 people who offered input.

If constructed, TMT will be the world's second-largest optical infrared telescope, 81 times more sensitive than the 10-meter telescopes currently on Mauna Kea and drawing in images 121/2 times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope.

The telescope is a joint venture among the University of Hawaii-Hilo, University of California, California Institute of Technology and the Association of Canadian Universities for the Research of Astronomy, as well as partnering governmental agencies in Japan, China and India.

Proponents point to high-paying jobs and educational enhancements as great benefits of the project. An estimated 300 construction workers and specialists will be hired for the building phase, and about 140 full-time workers will work at the facility after that. Some positions will require only a two-year technical degree and some will be administrative positions, officials said.

"I think the TMT project will be good for our community, our children and our state," said Art Taniguchi.

In addition, telescope officials have committed to give $1 million annually to Hawaii Island schools to focus on promoting science, technology, engineering and math.

Opponents include some Native Hawaiian groups, who view Mauna Kea's summit as a sacred place. A group of UH-Hilo Hawaiian Studies students offered emotional testimony in opposition that brought the older Hawaiians in attendance to their feet in support.

In response to opposition, UH-Hilo had created an Office of Mauna Kea Management and formed Kahu Ku Mauna, an advisory agency of nine Native Hawaiians, who provide input in the management process.

"My ancestors came from far, far away, far away just with the naked eye," said Samuel Kaleleiki, who opposes the telescope. "The way government is running things is running us into the ground. ... Kanaka maoli is the injured party."

But other Native Hawaiians support the plan.

Mike Kaleukini, who supports the telescope, also pointed to Native Hawaiians' long history of stargazing and wayfaring by the stars. What better a way to celebrate that Hawaiian heritage than moving it forward, he asked.

"Who knows, one day wayfaring will proceed toward the stars," he said.

Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club also oppose the project. Environmentalists don't think the TMT's application sufficiently deals with mitigating environmental damage, and they have appealed the project's Comprehensive Management Plan to the Intermediate Court of Appeals.

Tom Peek, a former guide for the Mauna Kea observatories, criticized both UH-Hilo and the Department of Land and Natural Resources for inadequate protection of the mountain. He pointed to negative audits from the legislative auditor in 1998 and 2005, which took UH-Hilo and DLNR to task for a "lax attitude."

"This is a new time, with a new governor and DLNR chief," Peek said. "It's a time when DLNR could reassert its regulatory role and finally protect and preserve the unique cultural and environmental resources of Mauna Kea."

Note:  From Nelson Ho, who attended the meeting, " Invigorating, positive evening meeting - only partially captured by Lauer in today's article. If she had stayed to the end the score would have been 31 opposed to 20 support for TMT."

Read the original story
Document Actions