On Monday, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources deferred decision-making on the construction permit that would allow a 14-story telescope to be built on Haleakala. This telescope — the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope — is well-funded by the National Science Foundation, but is extremely controversial in Hawaii. From public hearings held on Maui, it is clear that opposition to this project outweighs support by at least two-to-one. With only three-days’ notice, dozens of people phoned in their opposition directly to the BLNR when Monday’s hearing was announced.
This telescope is bigger than anything currently on the summit and will forever undermine the tranquility and refuge of this spiritual peak, nesting ground of the rare shearwater petrel, and U.S. National Park. And, as if that weren’t bad enough (it is!), this monstrosity is designed to look at the sun, but is not solar powered. huh?!!
The reason the BLNR Chairperson, Laura Thielen, gave for the deferral was a new court decision from the Intermediate Court of Appeals regarding traditional and customary practices of Native Hawaiians. As awful and disappointing as Judge Leonard’s decision was in that case (click to here to Pratt v. Hawai‘i), it does not seem at all relevant to the BLNR’s decision on the ATST.
If it isn’t relevant, then why did they bother to postpone decisionmaking?
My theory: the telescope didn’t have the votes.
Seven volunteer members comprise the BLNR. For a permit to be approved, it needs four votes total. At this particular hearing on the ATST last week, three BLNR members were absent (it was a long hearing). So, to pass, the telescope needed all four of the votes sitting there.
After the heated exchange in public testimony, both in support and in opposition. The BLNR went behind closed doors for an executive session with their lawyer. I bet their questions and comments to legal counsel revealed a lack of unanimous support for building another telescope on this mountain. Instead of risking a split vote that would have denied the permit, the chairperson opted to delay decisionmaking. Thankful there was this random, bad decision just released from the appeals court that the chairperson could hang her hat on.
Missing that day from the BLNR:
Rob Pacheco (Big Island tour operator)
Jerry Edlao (Maui pest exterminator)
Sam Gon (The Nature Conservancy, from Oahu)
The next decision-making hearing on the construction permit for this non-solar powered, solar telescope is:
December 1, 2010 at 9 am at 1151 Punchbowl Street in Honolulu.
Please join us, if you can make it.
Learn more about the effort to protect Hawai‘i’s sacred summits: