On Wednesday, the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources voted (6-1) to approve the construction permit for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST), on the theory that annual reports by the University of Hawaii will adequately protect endangered species and Hawaiian cultural practices. Here are some snipets of what was said at the meeting:
“They (UH) can say Malama Aina but I don’t believe it. Look at what has been done to the mountain in the name of astronomy.” -Kiope Raymond, Kilakila O Haleakala.
“If all the telescopes go away, it would be no loss for me as an astronomer. I would simply go to where the telescopes are.” -Paul Coleman, UH Astronomer.
I understand the concerns about protecting the Hawaiian culture, but this telescope is about the living and that’s why I am going to support it. – Jerry Edlao, BLNR member, (paraphrase)
Kilakila O Haleakala has already filed suit for the lack of an environmental impact statement on the University’s management plan for the summit of Haleakala and requested a contested case hearing on the construction permit.
News related to the BLNR’s decision on the ATST:
Michael Levine shared this Civil Beat Article with you: http://www.civilbeat.com/articles/2010/12/02/7019-state-oks-maui-solar-telescope-hawaiian-opponents-feel-burned/
State OKs Maui Solar Telescope, Hawaiian Opponents Feel Burned
By Michael Levine on 12/02/2010
(reprinted with permission from Mike Levine)
A proposed solar telescope atop Maui’s Haleakala Volcano will be built despite Native Hawaiian opposition and an environmental report showing the project would have major cultural impacts.
The Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources on Wednesday approved a Conservation District Use Permit for theAdvanced Technology Solar Telescope. The permit is a critical, if not final, step in the decades-long discussion to build such a device. Opponents could still appeal the decision.
When completed in about seven years, the new building will join a half-dozen scopes at the 18-acre Haleakala High Altitude Observatories Site, known by many simply as “Science City.” Some testifying Wednesday said their access to the mountaintop — which Native Hawaiians consider sacred — is already restricted and complained that stewardship for the area has been sorely lacking.
Astrophysicists from the University of Hawaii argued the new telescope will be a boon to Hawaii’s scientific community, will benefit students, will create jobs and boost the local economy.
They also said that the research is important for humanity as a whole, and that Maui was selected by the international community to be the optimal location for the ATST. Not to be confused with the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope(“TMT”) project proposed for Mauna Kea on the Big Island that will study stars throughout the Milky Way and other galaxies, the ATST hopes to determine how cosmic magnetic fields are generated and destroyed by looking closely at just one star — our sun.
“This is about understanding the interior of the sun and how it works,” Jeff Kuhn, a solar astronomer with the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy, said at the meeting Wednesday.
He said the device would help measure solar flares and changes in the sun’s temperature that, while small compared to immense heat of the sun, could impact life on earth. It’s impossible to stop hurricanes, but it’s still nice to know when they’re coming, Kuhn said. The research that will be possible with the new telescope could help humans in much the same way.
Haleakala is Sacred
But Native Hawaiians reiterated their opposition to the proposal. They say Haleakala is sacred and should not be desecrated with further development, even for scientific research. They complain that the university hasn’t adequately maintained the area since it took control decades ago. And they say they want access to view planes and other culturally important sites.
Kiope Raymond is a professor at Maui Community College, part of the University of Hawaii system that was seeking the permit. But his area of study is Hawaiian language and Hawaiian studies, not astronomy, and as president of theKilakila O Haleakala nonprofit organization, he has spoken in opposition to the proposal.
At Wednesday’s meeting, after retelling the legend of the demigod Maui snaring the sun at Haleakala, Raymond tearfully said that he had had a spiritual epiphany at Haleakala. He asked board members to vote no.
“It’s a matter of stewardship,” he told the Land Board members. “You are in effect the konohiki (land stewards) for all of us. … You have a tremendous kuleana (responsibility).”
The Final Environmental Impact Statement prepared for the project acknowledges that the construction and day-to-day use of the ATST “would be seen as culturally insensitive and disturb traditional cultural practices,” causing a “major, adverse, long-term impact” to cultural, historic and archeological resources.
A schematic design [pdf] submitted by the applicant in November shows the building housing the telescope will be more than 100 feet high and will need to burrow about 30 feet down into the volcanic rock. The National Solar Observatory, which manages the ATST, previously estimated that the project would cost an estimated $175 million to construct.
What Comes Next
Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, David Kimo Frankel of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation had already filed a request for a contested case hearing, which would allow both sides to argue in a quasi-judicial setting. Frankel said the board was required to grant the request and hold the hearing before making its decision.
Department of Land and Natural Resources Director Laura Thielen, likely in her last meeting as board chair, conferred with a deputy attorney general in a 30-minute executive session and decided to ignore the request.
A contested case hearing or appeal in the court system is still a possibility after the board’s vote, which is why the approval may not be the final OK the telescope needs from the state government.
Before the vote, Thielen added language requiring the University of Hawaii to report back to the Land Board each year with a list of any additional mitigation methods suggested by a Native Hawaiian Working Group, along with the results of those suggestions. She said it was a good model for future projects the board handles after she’s gone.
William Aila Jr., currently the Waianae harbormaster and governor-elect Neil Abercrombie‘s pick to head up DLNR, arrived at the board meeting during the telescope discussion Wednesday but did not testify or otherwise voice any opinion. Aila, a Native Hawaiian, has supported some indigenous causes — for example, he has opposed military live-fire training in Makua Valley.
Four other members joined Thielen in voting to approve the permit.
Among those in favor was Maui board member Jerry Edlao, who said it was a difficult decision.
“I respect the cultural aspects and the spiritual aspects,” he said, making eye contact with Raymond, the emotional opponent from Maui. “But I think in my mind, this project will benefit the living now, and I think it’s the living now that concerns me the most.”
The lone vote in opposition came from Samuel Gon, a scientist and cultural advisor with The Nature Conservancy and an at-large member of the board.
“I really appreciate the development and the knowledge that is gained by astronomical efforts,” Gon said. “But I will have to go with my gut on this particular motion.”
Gon explained his vote in a Thursday e-mail to Civil Beat, saying he wanted to “make it clear to the IFA that the issues run deep, that it is not a clear green light for full speed ahead, but that there are conditions, concerns, and ongoing trust to build and maintain.”
“The new observatory will be one of the largest buildings ever constructed on Maui, and will be hard to ignore,” he wrote. “I was moved by the testimony presented, and needed to honor those that flew in from Maui to make their statements.”
Earlier Wednesday, the Land Board unanimously approved a related item establishing a comprehensive management plan [pdf] for astronomy atop Haleakala.
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