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Initiative seeks conversation, public’s vision for Mauna Kea


    Gemini International Observatory seen in the distance as a group tours the 360-degree balcony of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope at the media preview of a Kamaaina Observatory Experience at Mauna Kea on Hawaii Island.

HILO >> A new initiative intended to change the conversation around the proposed construction of the largest observatory on Mauna Kea is underway, with supporters hoping it will reduce the ongoing tension surrounding the disputed Thirty Meter Telescope.

The nonprofit Friends of the Future is leading the EnVision Maunakea initiative, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported. Susan Maddox is in charge of the project that seeks to document residents’ vision for the mountain through a series of meetings around Hawaii island.

Maddox told the Office of Mauna Kea Management Board on Wednesday that the goal of the meetings is just to hear what the public has to say.

Board member Doug Simons, also a member of the working group that came up with the initiative, said the board feels strongly that “the conversation needs to happen.”

The project is being funded by the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy and several observatories that use Mauna Kea. Simons said the process will be independent of the board, but public input could bring about changes in how the mountain is managed.

UH-Hilo Chancellor Don Straney also said in a letter to Maddox and board member Greg Chun that he would work to incorporate feedback from the project into planning for the university’s new master lease for the summit. The existing lease, which allows 13 telescopes to use the mountain, expires in 2033.

“Maunakea is an important cultural, environmental, scientific, and recreational resource the future of which holds profound implications for the Native Hawaiian community, Hawaii Island community, university, state and the world,” the letter states. Straney added that the controversy regarding the future of the mountain presents an opportunity for “careful consideration of diverse interests.”

Dates have not yet been set for the public meetings, but Maddox said she hopes to have the project finished within a year.

“The process is really unfolding,” Maddox said.

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