Mauna Kea Update

By Deborah Ward

While COVID has closed the Mauna Kea visitor center and many tours to the summit, a lot has been happening behind the scenes on the mauna. Two telescopes (Hoku Kea and California Submillimeter Observatory) are slated for decommissioning, four cesspools are being closed, the 2020 Master Plan is about to be unveiled, Representative Saiki’s Mauna Kea Working Group has been convened to examine management alternatives, and the Master Lease extension EIS is on hold until the working group makes a recommendation to the legislature.

The University of Hawaiʻi issued a letter in late April declaring that construction had been started in compliance with permit conditions that require an initiation of construction within two years of securing a permit. But several of the petitioners that challenged the TMT in a contested case have filed a motion stating that UH incorrectly represented the conditions of the permit, and they requested a hearing before the Board of Land and Natural Resources. They contend that the activities cited do not, in fact, constitute legitimate construction activities, and are not sufficient to declare that construction has begun.

One of the key fiscal sponsors of the TMT is Canada, and recently the Canadian Astronomical Association (CASCA) has announced that “unless the TMT project has consent from the Native Hawaiians, Canada’s astronomical community cannot support its construction on Mauna Kea.” Dr. Gaensler, CASCA’s co-chair of its long range plan, said “As excited as we are about the scientific potential and engineering excellence of the TMT, we believe that astronomical discovery cannot come at the expense of human rights for the people on whose lands we operate our telescopes—anywhere in the world.” The long range plan offers this conclusion: “when such consent does not exist, the principals should recognize that the use or threat of force is an unacceptable avenue for developing or accessing an astronomical site.”

The Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory (TIO) has admitted that the project is $1 billion short of the funds needed, is awaiting the announcement of the 2020 Decadal Survey, and an application to the National Science Foundation for funding to complete and operate the project, which would require a federal EIS and Section 106 consultation with Native Hawaiians, prior to decision-making. This process could take over four to five years to complete. The UH lease expires in 2033, and a lease extension is not certain.

In mid-May, KAHEA confronted a state bully before the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court. For two years, the State Attorney General has been overstepping its already sweeping powers, trying to intimidate KAHEA and its supporters with subpoenas and search warrants for bank records. The AG claims it simply wants the records to see if KAHEA is following nonprofit law, but in court KAHEA attorneys Naiwi Wurdeman and Lance Collins argued that the AG is actually trying to intimidate Mauna Kea kiaʻi with a “fishing expedition” and chill their broad, public support. During the demonstration on the mauna in 2019, the kiaʻi received support from different organizations and a few state agencies. The Department of Land and Natural Resources made an informal agreement with the Royal Order of Kamehameha to allow Puʻu Huluhulu to be a safe place for people to congregate. The Department of Transportation placed a temporary stop light on Saddle Road to allow people to cross safely from Puʻu Huluhulu to the Mauna Kea Access Road. But the AG made efforts to criminalize KAHEA’s efforts to provide medical supplies, porta potty cleaning fees, sweaters, blankets, food or other supplies. It is clear that the AG used the power of the state to intimidate the non-profit and its donors, and that is simply not allowed by the state or US constitutions.

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