New telescope atop Mauna Kea begs questions

By Jonathan Osorio
Honolulu Star Advertiser
KAHEA Board VP, Jon Osorio's op-ed on links between the Thirty-Meter Telescope litigation and BLNR's hearing on UH's lease renewal of Mauna Kea lands.

Today, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) will issue its deci
sion concerning the renewal of a long-term lease of Mauna Kea to the University of Hawaii, an important pre-condition to the construction of the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT).

Several dozen people testified on this matter over many hours last month. A number of organizations, Hawaiian cultural practitioners, environmentalists and scientists oppose the TMT, and KAHEA has specifically contested this poorly conceived project.

The concern we hold in common is this: The construction and activities around the telescopes already on the summit have contributed, as previous environmental review has concluded, to “substantial, adverse and significant” impacts to the biological and cultural resources of the mountain’s summit areas.

UH, the applicant for TMT’s land-use permit, presented the counterfactual argument that because bad impacts have already occurred, there is no point in worrying about future impacts of a much-larger telescope.

The building housing the telescope will be 18 stories high, and TMT construction is predicted to impose a sprawling 8-acre footprint of parking lot and auxiliary construction adjacent to the summit. Yet, the attitude by UH that new damage to that environment is unimportant tells the public that UH won’t be paying much attention to the environmental and cultural impacts now or in the future. That is an irresponsible attitude for the lessee to assume, and it would be negligent for the BLNR to entrust ceded lands to such a manager.

Worse, the new proposed UH lease is exempt from complying with environmental review laws that would require UH and BLNR to consider what its actions will mean for Mauna Kea.

As to Mauna Kea itself, its size and effect on climate and weather, and especially the aquifer water for the rest of the island, requires that we pay closer attention to what goes on at the summit. The drying up of Lake Waiau — still unexplained by geologists, environmentalists and meteorologists — suggests a dramatic change in the island’s ecology.

Unlike UH, we understand that substantial effects should not be dismissed just because they have already occurred. It is not too late to reverse the damage by reducing the number of telescopes and cease any new construction until the impacts are better understood.

Finally, the Mauna Kea summit is ceded land and kanaka maoli and Hawaiian agencies have a claim to those lands and a responsibility to and for them. That is why the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs testified last month against renewing the lease to UH, and why many kanaka maoli want BLNR to be much more careful about how and by whom the summit is managed.

If the board proceeds with its ill-advised policy of business-as-usual, it should be very clear with the public about its reasons.

Board members must tell OHA why it is in their interest for the UH to lease the mountain for a dollar per year. Tell the public how another telescope benefits UH, its astronomy programs and its students, and why we should expect more and larger projects on the mountain. Tell the state what happens to antiquated telescopes made obsolete by each new project. And tell religious practitioners why the sacredness of Mauna Kea should be sacrificed.
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