Objections place hold on telescope sublease

By Cathy Bussewitz
Star Advertiser
Objections place hold on telescope sublease

This artist’s rendering made available by TMT Observatory Corp. shows the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope.

Hawaii's Board of Land and Natural Resources has approved a sublease for a $1.3 billion telescope that would be one of the world's largest, but the approval is on hold until the board hears objections in a separate review process.

The board met Friday to discuss issues raised previously about a plan to build the Thirty Meter Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea on Hawaii island.

The University of Hawaii leases land from the state where the telescope would be built, and the Thirty Meter Telescope group would sublease the land for about $1 million after it is fully built.

The sublease is the last major bureaucratic hurdle for scientists, although the proj­ect also faces the threat of lawsuits by opponents.

Opponents raised questions about whether appraisals of the land were done appropriately and whether Native Hawaiians were properly consulted. They said that if the telescope is built on Hawaii's tallest peak, it will desecrate a place held sacred by Native Hawaiians.

"Mauna Kea is very sacred to me, to my culture, to my future culture, to my future generations," said Pono Kea­loha, who describes himself as a Hawaiian national.

Representatives from the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which would get a percentage of the rent payments, questioned how the rental amount to be charged was calculated.

"Based on our research, we know some of the telescopes on the mountain are selling viewing time for between $80,000 and $100,000 per night," said Sterling Wong, OHA public policy manager.

Land Board Chairman William Aila said the objections were heard, but UH provided what the board thought were legally appropriate answers.

Several opponents requested what's known as a contested case hearing. The sublease will not be in effect until each of the contested cases reaches conclusion, a process that could take as little as a month or as much as a year, Aila said.

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