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Hawaiians seek EIS on Maui observatory


A native Hawaiian practices organization is suing the University of Hawaii and the state to require an environmental impact statement on the proposed management plan for a Haleakala observatory on Maui.

The lawsuit, filed by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. on behalf of Kilakila o Haleakala, which says it conducts customary and traditional native Hawaiian practices on Haleakala, names as defendants the university, UH Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources and board Chairwoman Laura Thielen.

The management plan does not need an EIS because it does not propose any new facilities atop Haleakala, said Mike Maberry, assistant director of UH’s Institute for Astronomy.

UH needs Land Board approval of the management plan because the Haleakala High Altitude Observatory Site is on conservation land.

The item was on the Land Board’s Monday agenda, but the board delayed discussion of the topic until its meeting next Wednesday.

Even though it was not required, Maberry said UH conducted an environmental assessment that concluded the proposed management plan will have no significant impact. An environmental assessment is less stringent than an EIS.

A separate item involving Haleakala on the Land Board’s Monday agenda also was moved to next Wednesday. UH is requesting board approval to construct an Advanced Technology Solar Telescope atop Haleakala.

The proposed project has already undergone state and federal environmental impact statements. And because the project will use federal money, it must meet National Historic Preservation Act requirements, Maberry said.

He said UH had 30 formal and informal consultations with native Hawaiians and signed agreements with the National Science Foundation, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the State Historic Preservation Division and native Hawaiians.

The lawsuit also mentions the possibility of another new telescope that could have significant impact on Haleakala: the Panoramic Telescope & Rapid Response System for detecting asteroids and comets that might pose a danger to Earth.

The state Office of Environmental Quality Control published a notice in 2007 of UH’s intent to conduct an EIS for Pan-STARRS. Mauna Kea is the preferred site, with Haleakala listed as an alternate. The Air Force was to provide the funding.

Maberry said UH withdrew the notice because it is seeking alternative funding.

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