University of Hawaii officials confirmed Monday that the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope project will be the last new observatory site developed on Mauna Kea and pledged to decommission one-quarter of existing telescopes atop the mountain as requested by Gov. David Ige.
Ige last week declared the state had in many ways failed the mountain and called on the university to take several steps to improve its overall stewardship of Mauna Kea. UH subleases nearly 11,000 summit acres from the state under a long-term lease agreement.
The governor had asked UH to “formally and legally” agree that the TMT project area would be the last area on Mauna Kea where a telescope project would be contemplated or sought; to decommission at least 25 percent of existing observatories before TMT is operational; to voluntarily return to the state all lands at the summit not being used for astronomy; to restart the environmental review process for UH’s lease extension request; and to substantially reduce the length of the university’s lease extension with the state (UH is asking for a 65-year lease), among other requests.
In a joint statement issued Monday, UH President David Lassner and UH-Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney said, “We accept that the university has not yet met all of our obligations to the mountain or the expectations of the community. For that, we apologize. … As we move forward, we commit to increased engagement and active listening with the community.”
The statement went on to address each of the requests made by the governor.
UH affirmed that any new observatories can only be placed on existing sites on Mauna Kea and said it will work with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to draft a document to make the commitment legally binding.
The university also pledged by the end of this year to present a plan for the removal of 25 percent of existing telescopes (there are 13 now) and restoration of the sites by the time TMT is ready to operate. The $1.4 billion project will take an estimated 10 years to build.
UH also said the university will work with DLNR to return summit lands not being used for astronomy, and will modify its application for a new sublease to reduce the total acreage that would be under UH control.
Construction of the TMT project has remained on hold while protesters camp out at the 9,200-foot level, ready to block work vehicles. Thirty-one protesters were arrested April 2. TMT opponents regard Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s tallest mountain, as a sacred cultural site.