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Saturday, December 20, 2014         

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Criticisms of telescopes atop Mauna Kea are 10 years out of date

By Barry K. Taniguchi and Herring Kalua

POSTED:


Mauna Kea is one of the most special places on Earth, which makes decisions affecting its future of vital importance to our community and beyond.

It is unlikely there will ever be total accord on topics as complex as the cultural, environmental and scientific issues that coalesce at the summit of Mauna Kea. At the very least, however, these important matters need to be addressed through honest debate and based on factual information.

Recently, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser published an angry outburst by Nelson Ho, co-chairman of the Sierra Club's Mauna Kea Issues Committee, against the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project ("A big boondoggle: Can the TMT project be stopped?" June 14). In it, he attempts to spread fear and divisiveness through insinuation and falsehoods, while disparaging the efforts of many community-minded individuals in the process.

Ho claims that he speaks for "environmentalists, native Hawaiians and cultural practitioners" against the misguided or even evil efforts of university officials, construction companies, astronomers, labor unions and "political elites." He pits the TMT, which he labels "California's project," against "islanders."

Ho and his group have not changed their line of argument over the past 10 years, totally neglecting the fact that the 2000 Master Plan established a new form of community-based management of Mauna Kea led by the Office of Mauna Kea Management (OMKM), Mauna Kea Management Board (MKMB) and Kahu Ku Mauna Council at the University of Hawaii-Hilo.

The second of two legislative audits that Ho cites as "lambasting" the Board of Land and Natural Resources, also praises the improvements that were made by the university under the Master Plan -- especially the establishment of a Mauna Kea Ranger program.

True to the spirit of the 2000 Master Plan, dozens of able, sincere and dedicated community members have added their voices and given generously of their time and expertise over the past 10 years by serving on bodies such as the MKMB, Kahu Ku Mauna Council and the Hawaiian Culture and Environment committees that advise MKMB and OMKM. Contrary to Ho's allegations, these groups include respected environmentalists and Hawaiian cultural practitioners who participate without compensation alongside educators, scientists, commercial users and others to find solutions that serve the common good.

Unfortunately, for the past 10 years, naysayers such as Ho and his Sierra Club committee have chosen not to participate in the process, opting instead to stand on the sidelines and complain about things happening more than 10 years ago.

On the other hand, OMKM has spearheaded a series of important studies on the mountain's natural resources (including multi-year, multi-agency efforts to gather baseline data on the population, habitat and life cycle of the wekiu bug) and the first comprehensive archaeological survey of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve and access road -- studies conducted by experts in their field, with partial funding provided by observatories on Mauna Kea. This data contributed to the recently completed Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP). We now know more about Mauna Kea than ever before, and this knowledge will lead to better management decisions and practices.

The proposed TMT project has many more requirements it must meet, but the MKMB, OMKM and Kahu Ku Mauna Council have been engaged in the initial review phases of the TMT and its accompanying environmental impact statement. The project has been subjected to design review critiques and has responded to suggested changes. Furthermore, a letter from TMT to university President M.R.C. Greenwood states: "The TMT Observatory Corporation is committed to contributing substantial funding to the University of Hawaii through the Office of Mauna Kea Management to assist with its management functions."

Scare tactics like implying that the TMT is a harbinger of larger telescopes and rampant development on the summit are simply not true. The CMP and other university documents assure us that there will be fewer, rather than more, telescopes in the future.

Members of the Sierra Club would be well served to look into the role and pronouncements made in their name by Nelson Ho and his supporters, as it directly impacts the credibility of their organization. Meanwhile, there are many of us who choose to be part of the process to find the best path forward.

Barry K. Taniguchi and Herring Kalua, both Big Island residents, are members of the MKMB.






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