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Despite TMT’s legal limbo, STEM fund retained

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The nonprofit company trying to build the Thirty Meter Telescope is continuing with its pledge to donate $1 million annually for educating students on Hawaii island, even though its future in the state is in limbo.

In 2014, telescope officials promised $1 million every year of the 19-year Mauna Kea sublease to boost science, technology, engineering and math education. The first million was distributed at about the time protesters decrying the erection of a giant telescope on a mountain many Native Hawaiians consider sacred forced construction to halt. The project remains stalled amid intense opposition and a state Supreme Court ruling that invalidated the construction permit.

The high court ordered a new contested-case hearing for the permit, putting The Hawaii Island New Knowledge (THINK) fund in an awkward position. Pulling the plug would hurt students who benefit from the money, but the fund was promised as long as the observatory is in operation or under construction.

Funding the second year’s $1 million was the “right thing to do,” Sandra Dawson, the project’s Hawaii community affairs manager, said Friday. “A decision was consciously made, deliberately made, to continue the payments.”

The fund distributes 75 percent to the Hawaii Community Foundation and the remainder to the Pauahi Foundation. The two organizations then award grants and scholarships. Most of the awards have been given to Native Hawaiian students, Dawson said.

Thirty Meter Telescope initially didn’t publicize that it has given the full $2 million. “That was partly deliberate,” Dawson said. “There’s a philosophy. If you’re going into classrooms and educating kids, it’s not a place where you kind of advertise.”

During a Chamber of Commerce panel about Mauna Kea earlier this year, telescope supporters were urged to be more vocal about highlighting the benefits to Hawaii. “Maybe we should have done more than we did,” Dawson said about publicizing the fund.

On Monday, the fund was mentioned in a news release the project’s public relations firm distributed about Thirty Meter Telescope being recognized by the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce for its community education work.

The idea for THINK fund came during the early stages of the project when telescope officials held community meetings on Hawaii island, where residents questioned how it would benefit them, Dawson said.

“TMT immediately recognized the validity of that concern. With almost no, if any negotiations, the TMT board said how about a million dollars a year for education,” she said.

Telescope officials say Mauna Kea remains the first choice, but they are looking for alternate sites in case the project can’t be built in Hawaii.

Dawson couldn’t answer definitely what will happen to the fund if the telescope leaves: “The THINK fund is based on TMT being in Hawaii,” she said.

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  • Implicit biases rig everything in Hawaii to prefer the constructs formed pursuant to the institutionalization of the monarchy clan. It’s our version of the right thing to do and is the chain that binds us to the past, determining the future. That’s the cognitive dissonance. The colonial interest in land and its use is wrong, legally but right historically. TMT doesn’t get it because it hired the wrong people to help it put the project together – the insider fixers. Oh, where is Dan Inouye when we need him.

  • This payoff hush money to minors to dynamite and bulldoze conservation land for profit is an insult. These telescopes are commercial operations charging thousands per night for usage while paying only one dollar a year in rent. These land based telescopes are outdated toys that can never be built big enough. Hubble takes way better pictures and deeper into space than these luxury toys.

    • Can you cite such an instance, or how it would work? The telescopes don’t “charge” anyone. Their usage is by a competitive proposal process. People seem to commonly confuse the operating budgets, divided by nights per year, to come up with these comical numbers. Partners receive percentages of time (still allocated by competitive science proposals) based on their share of the operating burden. No one is making a profit – they couldn’t do so legally as they are organized as non-profits. No one gets rich operating a telescope.

      • jas – sir or madam, were you genuinely interested in the objective facts involved in this matter instead of parsing some aspect of the PR nonsense involved, such as in this article, you would be questioning the matter from a different perspective instead of speaking to a non point. So your rejoinder is yet another non sequitur, joining all the other such – when are you people going to learn that you cannot out fox the people any longer? answer: apparently never.

    • eleu, the Hubble telescope can’t be everywhere 24 hours a day, that’s why there are telescopes scattered about the world. Telescopes on our side of the planet, can’t see what telescopes on other sides observe, and vice versa. Land-based telescopes make new discoveries all the time, try Google, or research back issues (some recently) of the Star-Advertiser.

      • If telescopes are such “outdated toys,” why would the company be investing $970 million to 1.4 billion to build something that is obsolete?

    • The insult is to the world community of scientists and rational people who want to learn more about our universe, just as the Polynesians looked to the heavens to understand and navigate by the stars. The Hawaiians and others opposed to the TMT project, are becoming the laughing stock of the world community as backward, superstitious, uneducated, andd ignorant savages

  • What Dawson is talking about is TMT builders being asked indirectly to pay bribes, which is what they agreed to do providing of course that TMT is built.
    Obviously, if TMT goes to Chile, there is not going to be any cheddar.

  • STEM money to further Hawaii Island kids’ interest towards technology is a waste of time and money. The smart kids will become interested and succeed regardless but the others will end up as manual laborers or dependent on welfare.

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