TMT: controversy combusts

By Angel Russell
Ka Leo The Voice
Native Hawaiian practitioners and conservationists are making a case against the Thirty Meter Telescope, proposed to be built on Hawaiian public conservation lands atop Mauna Kea.
TMT: controversy combusts

The Thirty Meter Telescope will join the Keck and Subaru telescopes on Mauna Kea, surpassing both in size by about 20 meters.

Native Hawaiian practitioners and conservationists are making a case against the Thirty Meter Telescope, proposed to be built on Hawaiian public conservation lands atop Mauna Kea.

A case hearing is set for Aug. 15 to 18.

The TMT has been in planning for eight years, and is expected to be completed in 2018. If built, the TMT would be the world's most advanced ground-based optical observatory. The University of Hawai‘i Board of Regents has already approved the TMT, and the state Board of Land and Natural Resources voted unanimously to approve the permit to build and operate the $1.3 billion telescope, subject to the outcome of the contested case hearing.

Although 13 telescopes already sit near the volcanic summit, not all Hawaiians are in favor of adding another. Opponents are displeased with the project because it would be built on sacred Hawaiian land, and according to a joint press release, "One of the primary challenges to the TMT is the fact that it will destroy one of the last intact natural viewsheds from the summit of Mauna Kea. If built, the TMT would obstruct summit-views of the sunset, as well as culturally significant view planes to Haleakalā."

The giant telescope would be visible to those looking up toward the summit from the north side of the island.

One of the lead petitioners, Kealoha Pisciotta of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, stated in the press release that "Mauna Kea is a sacred site. Destroying holy places is offensive no matter where you go, but here in Hawai‘i our sites are regularly destroyed in the name of development. BLNR has allowed Mauna Kea to be overbuilt, and that violates our rights, because Native Hawaiians and the general public can no longer enjoy these awesome sites once they are destroyed."

Contrary to this, UH President M.R.C Greenwood has articulated the university's plans in terms of stewardship, rather than destruction. In the UH monthly report, she stated, "The university is keenly aware of its obligation to be a responsible and thoughtful caretaker of the land that has been entrusted to our care on Mauna Kea. The mountain is a gift to all the people of Hawai‘i, and we recognize our responsibility and kuleana to it. We deeply appreciate all of the work that has been done by the community to ensure that the TMT is done in the right way for the benefit of the people of Hawai‘i."

But Pisciotta and Marti Townsend, program director of KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, disagree. In an email to Ka Leo, they explained, "To date, the BLNR has failed to collect any rent beyond $1.00/year from the foreign governments and corporations that own and operate the telescopes on Mauna Kea. That means neither the state taxpayers nor the UH receive any financial benefit from the international astronomy industry."

Nonetheless, Greenwood's report also said, "It [the TMT] will contribute greatly to our economy and the need for quality, environmentally-friendly jobs on a neighbor island. We believe the decision validates the careful and thorough planning process we've gone through, and is a recognition that science and indigenous culture do not have to be diametrically opposing forces. They can unite in the pursuit of knowledge."

But according to Kumu Hula Paul K. Neves, "Education is not desecration. Hawaiians should not be called to abandon their fundamental cultural and spiritual values and lands, for Western ‘education,' and if they must, then they are being presented with false choices."

"There is no difference between so called ‘educational development' verses ‘development for profit,' when discussing building very large industrial structures like the TMT, (five acres and 18 stories high) in a conservation district," said Townsend. "Conservation Districts, like Mauna Kea, are set aside by law for conservation and not for development – if the TMT Corporation wants to build here they need to do so in an industrial or urban zones and not on Mauna Kea. Telescope facilities are industrial land uses that should be undertaken in urban areas, not conservation districts."

Pisciotta said, "We [the petitioners of the contested case] are ... helping to protect and conserve important biodiversity found nowhere else on earth, our Wahi Pana [sacred places] and the burial ground of our Kupuna. We are advocating for the foreign entities using (and abusing) Mauna Kea to pay rent, which goes to help students. What the UH should be doing instead of spending precious monies fighting us in court and raising student tuition is joining us to ensure the foreign government pays their fair share, and to use the money to help all students."

No work can be done on the TMT without the final judgment in the pending case hearing, which will weigh the concerns from both UH and those objecting to BLNR approval of the project.

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