Native Issues



Love for the Mountain

By MEGAN MOSELEY |  Feb. 20, 2014  |   Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Native Hawaiian practitioner Kalani Flores recognizes Mauna Kea for more than its scenic views and pristine hiking opportunities.

During a trip to the mountain on Monday, the Big Island resident stood placidly at the entrance across the Mauna Kea access road. While slowly removing his slippers, he gracefully approached a rock formation, known as an ahu, where it is proper practice to greet the mountain by making an offering to Wakea, the sky father, before entering the premises.

Behind him stood Ku Ching, Hawaiian and fellow petitioner in the case involving the state’s decision to grant a conservation land use permit for the construction of one of the world’s largest telescopes on the mountain. Flores, Ching and four other petitioners are arguing that the Board of Land and Natural Resources erred when approving the permit to the University of Hawaii at Hilo for the Thirty Meter Telescope project.

With a hearing scheduled for 8 a.m. today in Hilo’s Third Circuit Court, Ching and Flores visited the mountain to pay their respects.

Native Hawaiians, or kanaka maoli, consider the mountain the center of all life. Within its slopes are stories and lessons passed down from generation to generation. It is also a burial ground for their ancestors, or kupuna. Like many religious or spiritual practices, their holistic approach to the mountain as something sacred is a method of teaching culture, consciousness and values to future generations.

During their stop at a second ahu near the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station, Ching and Flores were joined by two 7-year-olds who were visiting the park that day with their mothers. The keiki took a break from playing to greet their elders with aloha, and spoke out about what Mauna Kea means to them.

“I hear the mountain say ‘Thank you,’” Kanalu Lacy said. “It says, ‘Thank you for talking to me and thank you for giving me love.’”

“I talk to the mountain because the mountains are our kupuna,” Nohealani Mulloy said. “Since they’re our kupuna, it means something to us and it is in our life. We live with the kupunas and the maunas. I feel like I’m here with the gods and I’m praying for them.”

It’s these traditions that Flores fears could be in jeopardy if significant development continues on the mountain.

“It is the most sacred piko of Hawaii,” Flores said. “Hawaii traditions and culture are directly tied to the natural resources. They’re one and one. If you don’t have the place and don’t have the cultural resources, then you loose those aspects and traditions that are directly tied to them.”

Potential environmental damages caused by the development of TMT is one argument the petitioners are making in court. In order for a permit to be granted, the proposed land use has to meet eight specific criteria. The petitioners are arguing that the 18-story telescope that will sit on five acres on the mountain’s northern plateau violates the mandate that states the land use proposal “will not cause substantial adverse impact to existing natural resources within the surrounding area, community or region.”

Flores and the other petitioners contend they’re not opposed to TMT, but are in favor of it being built in a different location in order to protect their cultural rights.

According to a press release, the decision as to where to put the telescope was made after evaluating both Mauna Kea and Chile’s Cerro Armazones as potential locations.

“It was clear from all the information we received that both sites were among the best in the world for astronomical research,” said Edward Stone, Caltech’s vice chairman of the TMT board, in a press release. “Each has superb observing conditions and would enable TMT to achieve its full potential of unlocking the mysteries of the universe.”

TMT spokeswoman Sandra Dawson added that the existing telescope facilities were also a factor in the decision.

“… Mauna Kea has existing infrastructure (roads, electricity, computer connections, etc.) and … it is easier to attract and retain staff in Hawaii,” she said.

According to a legal brief filed on behalf of BLNR, the board determined that the project would not negatively impact cultural practitioners since it’s not being built on the summit or Kukaha‘ula of the mountain, which is considered to be a scared area for traditional prayers and offerings, and that access to culturally significant locations would not be influenced by the development of the telescope.

But Native Hawaiian practices aren’t limited to just the summit. Flores and Ching’s moment of observance Monday occurred near the summit at Pu‘u Poli‘ahu, where sounds coming from nearby telescope facilities effected the rite.

Flores and Ching will head to court today, the same day the University of Hawaii Board of Regents will be voting on the sublease agreement between TMT and UH-Hilo in Honolulu.

According to an article published by the Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, Mauna Kea was set aside in 1961 as part of the ongoing effort to protect Hawaii’s watersheds. Upper regions of the area had been recognized as ecologically significant, culturally sacred, and extremely fragile.

Mauna Kea in the Open

By MEGAN MOSELEY | Free Surf Magazine

It’s the tallest mountain on earth, home to some of the world’s most advanced astronomical observatories, and Hawai’i’s largest and perhaps most revered heiau (temple).

Mauna Kea stands tall on the island of Hawai’i at around 33,000 feet from the ocean floor. Considered the “piko,” or center, of the island, her natural beauty demands attention from almost anyone who crosses her path- from avid hikers to snowboarders, from astronomers to native Hawaiian cultural practioners. 

However, during the past year, Mauna Kea has been attracting a different kind of attention after a group of self-proclaimed “protectors” of the mountain successfully halted a groundbreaking ceremony for the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project. Since then, a movement to protect the mountain from further development has spread around the world with no end in sight.

News about The Mauna Kea Movement began making headlines on October 7, 2014 when a couple hundred protesters used civil disobedience to block off the road leading to the mountain’s summit. The action stopped a caravan of University of Hawai’i officials, astronomers, media and TMT project advocates from their ceremony.

The protest was small, but powerful. The story about what happened on Mauna Kea that day went viral, spreading across social media and featured on major news outlets such as NPR and The New York Times.

Word about the movement surfaced again in March of this year, when more demonstrators stopped TMT construction crews from heading up the mountain. A few days later on April 2, police arrested 31 individuals for blocking the road.

Professional surfer and former Kauai mayor candidate Dustin Barca was among those arrested. He, like others, took to social media to shed light on the dramatic episode. “Divide and conquer is the way of the oppressor, $$$ local police told they would lose their jobs if they wouldn’t arrest their own Ohana?!?!?” he wrote on his Instagram account below a picture of a single protester sitting down while a swarm of police stood in front of him.

Barca’s picture of the protest and many more posted by social media users representing the #WeAreMaunaKea hash tag helped to advertise the debate, turning what started out as a local issue into an international controversy.

In recent months, fans of the movement and support for the protection of Mauna Kea have voiced their opinions publicly, including celebrities.

Surfing pro Kelly Slater, along with “Game of Thrones” actor Jason Momoa, “Lost” actor Ian Somerhalder, former UFC world champion BJ Penn, and actress Rosario Dawson published pictures of themselves with the words “We Are Mauna Kea” written on their bodies in an attempt to spread awareness about the issue and reel in signatures for an online petition to stop the TMT project. With their clout, they’ve helped to influence outsiders on the issue of Mauna Kea.

What is the Mauna Kea issue?

In Native Hawaiian tradition, Mauna Kea is sacred ground. The upper regions of Mauna Kea are said to reside in Wao Akua, the realm of the Akua, or Creator. The mountain is considered the temple of the “Supreme Being,” acknowledged as such in many oral and written histories throughout Polynesia.

Home to the divine, Mauna Kea is said to be the meeting place of Papa (Earth Mother) and Wakea (Sky Father), who are considered the progenitors of the Hawaiian people. In tradition, it is the place where the Sky and the Earth separated to form the Great-Expanse-of-Space and the Heavenly Realms.

Fast-forward to January 16, 1893, when the United States military supporting American businessmen and missionary interests occupied the islands. Hawaiian Queen Lili’uokalani declared the invasion an act of war, but with little military force of her own she ended up yielding the kingdom of Hawai’i over to the U.S. government. Several years later, U.S. annexed Hawai’i and took over more than 1.8 million acres of the crown and public lands without consent.

The debate over statehood is an emotionally charged issue with some Hawaiians advocating that the Kingdom be completely restored, while others search for more diplomatic methods of recognition with the federal government. Nevertheless, the history of America’s involvement with Hawai’i is essential to the Mauna Kea debate.

Hawai’i became a state in the 1959. At the time, ceded lands were returned to the state of Hawai’i and placed in a public trust. The Mauna Kea Science Reserve, where TMT will be constructed and other telescopes currently exist, sits on these ceded lands.

In 1968, the Institute for Astronomy, established by the university and astronomers, requested a 65-year-lease for all land above 12,000 feet elevation that later became known as the Mauna Kea Science Reserve.

Eager to use the mountain’s pristine view of the sky, astronomers built the first telescope by 1968. Another telescope was constructed a year later, and another in 1970. By 1983, there were six telescopes on the mountain and by the 2000’s, 13 telescopes sat atop of Mauna Kea.

Throughout the years of what some would call rapid astronomical development on Mauna Kea, environmentalists became worried about the impact of construction to the mountain’s delicate ecosystem while Native Hawaiians worried about protecting their sacred land.

In response, the Department of Land and Natural Resources began laying out various comprehensive management plans beginning in 1977. These plans aimed at addressing a wide-range of issues to protect various endangered and delicate life on the mountain and attempted to protect Mauna Kea’s cultural and archaeological sites.

Another master plan, The Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan, was developed in 2009, again in an attempt to layout boundaries for building on the mountain and ways to recognize and support Hawaiian culture.

Currently, there’s an Office of Mauna Kea Management that is charged with overseeing the mountain and seeking input from the public, but some argue these actions are a “smoke and mirrors” attempt while others commend the state and university for attempting to address the concerns of the public.

Regardless, it did not stop organizations such as the Sierra Club and Hawaiian cultural practioners from voicing their opinion that development on Mauna Kea needs to come to end.

Under the lease’s terms for the science reserve, the university is allowed to build in the area but must abide by strict rules, such as not damaging or defacing anything of monumental or historical value. If the terms are broken, then the state Board of Land and Natural Resources could reclaim the summit. Many of the protesters are arguing that the TMT telescope, set to be one of the largest in the world, ranging 18 stories high plus 20 ft. below ground, would violate that term. Construction for TMT will impact more than 5 acres, about four football fields. (The average football field is 1.32 acres)

TMT attempted to address these issues with environmental impact statements and a $17 million decommissioning plan that would pay for the restoration of the environment after the facility was pau. But protesters are arguing that’s an approach similar to Germany’s invasion of Poland; they’re walking in backwards saying they’re leaving.

Lake Waiau

Despite these efforts, some say it’s not enough and several individuals have taken their argument to the courts. They intend to take their case all the way to the Supreme Court if needed.

Another area of contention is the fact that the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), established in 1978, receives 20 cents to ever dollar made on ceded lands so that money made from the use of those lands can go towards improving the lives of the Native Hawaiian community. Many of the current telescopes are leased for $1 a year; meaning OHA receives only 20 cents per telescope.

TMT’s lease costs currently $300,000 a year. That amount would increase incrementally to around $1 million when operations begin with 80 percent of those funds going to Office of Mauna Kea Management and 20 percent to OHA. Recently, however, OHA voted to rescind their support of the project in response to public outcry.

From then to now: two very different view points

Those who are in support of TMT are arguing the telescope will bring much-needed jobs to the local economy, provide educational benefits to Hawai’i Island children and provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to search for the answers to the mysteries of the universe.

The project has dedicated a fund of $1 million a year to scholarships and education for Hawai’i Island students involved in science, technology, math and engineering. TMT will also include an advanced optics system capable of seeing further into the universe than any other telescope on the mountain.

In a letter to a local newspaper, Chad Kalepa Baybayan, a captain and navigator of various Hawaiian voyaging canoes such as Hokulea, wrote a compelling argument in favor of the project.

“As a Hawaiian, I recognize I am a descendant of some of the best naked-eye astronomers the world has known. It is culturally consistent to advocate for Hawaiian participation in a field of science that continues to enable that tradition and a field in which we ought to lead. I firmly believe the highest level of desecration rests in actions that remove the opportunity and choices from the kind of future our youth can own,” he said in a letter published in West Hawai’i Today.

On the other side, protectors argue too much damage has already been done and the university and state cannot be trusted. “A’ole TMT,” they say. Protesters have been camped out on the mountain for more than 40 days since the arrests occurred. Only a skeleton crew remains, but the fight is far from over.

Hawai’i Island resident and mother of two, Pamela Leslie, said the movement has been a learning experience for her and her children. “What I would hope my keikis would get out of this movement is to fight for what we believe in. We all need to come together as one, and this movement has brought the world together.”

What will happen next

Letters arguing both sides of the argument are sent daily to the local newspapers and if one thing is clear, it’s that finding a middle ground may be next to impossible.

Construction for TMT has since been postponed. Hawai’i Gov. David Ige issued a “timeout” on construction in early April following the arrests and again made an announcement on April 17, three days before the construction was slated to begin again, that TMT project managers decided to postpone construction until further notice.

Since then, outreach efforts have taken place but it’s still uncertain as to when, or if ever, construction for TMT will start. First light  is expected in 2024, but only time will tell.

The TMT Observatory Corp. based in Pasadena, Calif. will oversee the project. Partners include universities and astronomy institutions in United States, India, China and Japan.

Mauna Kea ‘Protectors’ Appear in Court

By MEGAN MOSELEY | Big Island Now

Several participants of the Mauna Kea movement that were arrested for blocking construction workers from reaching the Mauna Kea summit on June 24 appeared in court Thursday morning.

The June 24 arrests include: Samuel Kaleikoa Kaeo, 49, of Kula; Andre Perez, 44, of Pearl City; Chase Kanuha, 26, of Kailua-Kona; Hualalai Keohuloa, of Kamuela; Kawika Hassard, 36, of Hilo; Joseph Alapai, 54, of Kailua-Kona; Lori Parizal, 45, of Waipahu;  Gene Tamashiro, 58, of Hilo; Michel Prevost, 60, of Hakalau; Kaapunialiionalanikiekie Aiwohi, 25, of Wailuku; Michalann Trainer, 44, of Hilo and Ulises Consuegra, 44.

All but Consuegra were arrested on the state portion of the Mauna Kea access road. He was arrested on the county portion of the roadway.

Those arrested are part of a growing movement that aims to protect the Big Island mountain from further development as construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope is slated to begin this year.

However, protesters who have been camped out on the mountain since April 2, and whom prefer to be referred to as “protectors” of Mauna Kea, have halted construction for the telescope on multiple occasions.

A majority of the arrestees met with Judge Barbara Takase for their initial court appearance in Waimea. She explained to those present that they faced an obstruction charge, a petty misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of a 30-day jail sentence and a maximum fine of $1,000.

Representing the state was Deputy Prosecutor Britt Bailey.

Those who were present during the initial court appearance were asked whether or not they wanted the state to provide them with legal council, and were given an opportunity to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or of no-contest.

Several asked for court-appointed attorneys and were granted the return of their bail money.  Others chose to represent themselves in the matter, including Keohuloa who said he, as a Hawaiian, felt it best to speak for himself.

“I chose to represent myself because that’s all I have- my honesty,” Keohuloa said following court. “Culturally it’s your job to represent yourself. It’s kind of suicide in this type of system, but that’s all we have.”

Takase found it necessary to clarify the responses of multiple defendants who demonstrated their culture by speaking in Hawaiian.

“Let’s get one thing clear, I don’t understand the Hawaiian language,” Takase noted during the arraignment.

After speaking to each individual about their decision, Takase took a recess and the self-proclaimed protectors left the court. Some will have to return to enter a plea next month while others will have a pretrial conference in the coming months.

Keohuloa described the mood on Thursday as “real mellow.”

“We want to make sure even though we’re in this environment that we remain calm,” Keohuloa said following court.

Kaapunialiionalanikiekie Aiwohi, who had to travel from Maui to appear in court, said that although he didn’t want to get arrested on June 24, he’s happy he made it to the mountain that day to be apart of the movement.

“I think that no matter what happens, whatever they decide to do, if they decide to build it or if they don’t decide to, I think that we made such a big impact around the world,” he said.

Political Analysis: Ige on Mauna Kea

By MEGAN MOSELEY | Big Island Now

Will Gov. David Ige’s actions during the Mauna Kea controversy impact him later?

Neal Milner, political analyst and retired University of Hawai’i political science professor, said he doubts it.

Referring to Ige he said, “it’s extraordinarily difficult for an incumbent to lose. Gov. Abercrombie did, but it almost never happens. He can make a lot of mistakes, get a lot of people angry and still win.”

While the Mauna Kea issue has morphed into an international cause célèbre, Milner said he does not believe Ige will have to face repercussions during the next election.

But not everyone agrees with that argument.

“I believe Ige has been ill-advised. He is talking but not listening and he is unequally doing the bidding of the Thirty Meter Telescope people and lawyers and not caring for those he is responsible for and for the people of Hawai’i,” said Kealoha Pisciotta, president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou and one of the founding members of the movement. “He is mandated to protect the citizens of Hawai’i against the infringement of their environmental and cultural and religious rights. So his job is to protect us…eventually it will affect him in politics.”

Development on Mauna Kea was controversial well before Ige got into office, but the debate surrounding construction of TMT has received more publicity than other projects.

While TMT proponents believe the telescope will bring jobs and educational opportunities to the island, others argue that the mountain has been victim to overdevelopment.

Now TMT is being challenged in court and a protest has ensued during the past few months to put an end to the operation. The cause to protect Mauna Kea has gained support and notoriety around the world from various celebrities, organizations and individuals who wish to see development end and cultural practices guarded.

But despite public outcry, Ige has affirmed that the project will continue.

He first got involved with the issue shortly after the arrest of 31 peaceful protesters in April who blocked construction crews from getting to the mountain’s summit. Ige then postponed construction for the telescope twice.

On May 26 he gave his support for TMT while also paying homage to the self-proclaimed Mauna Kea protectors by saying the state, in many ways, has failed the mountain. In his speech he tried to draw a compromise by laying out various objectives on how to deal with Mauna Kea in the future.

Michael Bolte, member of the TMT International Observatory Board, said the board supported his efforts.

“Gov. Ige’s earlier announcement about the way forward on Mauna Kea reinforced the decisions we have made to be an agent of change on the mountain. Our period of inactivity has made us a better organization in the long run,” he said.

And while Ige’s statement may have satisfied the TMT Corp., it did not resonate with the demonstrators or their support network. The protesters spoke out against Ige’s speech and continued to stay on the mountain.

Ige’s endeavor to find middle ground proved to be futile, more arrests have since occurred and construction for TMT has yet to resume.

Colin Moore, political science professor at UH-Manoa, said how Ige is handling the TMT/Mauna Kea issue is, if anything, a reflection of his governing style.

“Ige likes to study, wait a long time and weigh all his options carefully, he said.

“He’s not signaling pretty clearly what side he favors because he isn’t particular good at doing that.”

Moore said Ige had substantial support from voters during last year’s election and that it’s still too early to tell whether his popularity remains intact. However, he said Ige’s actions handling the Mauna Kea issue may have exposed voters to his way of governing in general, and whether they like it or not is up in the air.

“It could make him look ineffectual,” he said.

Moore said Ige’s quiet, lead-behind-the-scenes nature may resonate with some voters, but may not with those who look for a more communicative and aggressive leader.

However, Moore also believes that perhaps taking a safe approach is the wisest action for Ige right now.

“Imagine the alternative, what if he came out very forcefully in favor of TMT?” he said.

Milner agrees that Ige governs in a quiet and deliberate manner and in this situation that may be OK.

“I think any governor would virtually do the same thing,” he said.

But Milner questions how Ige will act if he’s forced to be more aggressive.

“If the situation gets more explosive then it’s untested for him and we don’t know how he is when he has to mobilize public opinion one direction or the other,” he said. “He hasn’t had to do that and he hasn’t had much experience doing that and doesn’t like to do that.”

There was some speculation that Ige may have been considering deploying the Hawai’i National Guard to clear access to Mauna Kea, but Ige denied the claim.

His most recent action came more than a week ago, after several individuals were arrested on Mauna Kea. They were cited for allegedly violating a new 120-day emergency rule set in place by the Board of Land and Natural Resources and signed by Ige regarding access to the mountain. One of the rules essentially prohibits camping on the mountain.

Ige made the following statement in a press release following the arrests:

“The emergency rules were enacted to ensure public safety and access after the road was blocked by boulders. The state has made sure people are aware of and understand the emergency rules before taking the next step. While we had hoped arrests would not have to be made in the process of citing violators last night, we were prepared to take action, and we did so,” he said in a press release.

And while the statement was arguably his boldest yet, questions surrounding what will happen next still linger. And like Milner said, the controversy is not yet over.

“We’re in a sort of limbo right now, but that’s not going to last forever.”

Judge rules in favor of TMT project

By MEGAN MOSELEY | Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Third Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura ruled in favor of the Thirty Meter Telescope project Wednesday.

Nakamura based his decision off four points, including one that found the Board of Land and Natural Resources’ approval of a conservation district land use permit for the University of Hawaii at Hilo prior to holding a contested case hearing did not warrant reversal of the decision or order.

The TMT is a joint project between universities in California and Canada and research institutions in China, India and Japan. Officials hope to begin construction on the $1.3 billion telescope on Mauna Kea this year and start operations in 2021.

Kealoha Pisciotta, president of Native Hawaiian group Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, one of the six petitioners involved in the case, made the following statement on behalf of the hui opposed to the project:

“We’re disappointed. We intend to appeal. It’s hard to accept that the judge could agree with the university that a project like TMT wouldn’t have adverse and significant impact when the university admits it would. We’re ready to go. We’re ready go to the higher courts.”

Sandra Dawson, TMT spokeswoman, said she heard of the ruling around 1 p.m. Wednesday.

“We’re very happy about the ruling. We are happy that we followed the process every step of the way,” she said. “This was done in collaboration with great support from this island,” she said.

However, Pisciotta said the fight isn’t over.

“We’ve been doing court because court is the legitimate practice when you’re in a democracy and law-abiding place and because we’ve done that they haven’t been able to build for many, many years. We really do want the court to review the whole record. So that’s why we have to keep moving, we have to keep going. … Sacredness isn’t for sale. We have to keep fighting for it,” Pisciotta said.

TMT reps want a say in case challenging permit

By MEGAN MOSELEY | Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Thirty Meter Telescope representatives are looking to offer input on the case involving six petitioners challenging the state’s decision to grant a permit for the construction of one of the world’s largest telescopes on the top of Mauna Kea.

Representatives from the California-based project are expected to file an “amicus brief” or a “friend of the court” brief Thursday that would allow them to speak on the case involving the Board of Land and Natural Resources’ decision to grant a permit to the University of Hawaii at Hilo for the construction of the $1.3 billion initiative.

If the court approves the request, TMT Corporations would have a right to speak on the case and its issues.

The TMT project formed in 2003 and involves observatories and universities from Canada, Japan, China, India and the United States. The telescope was anticipated to be the largest of its kind, with a primary mirror that would be approximately 30 meters long. Currently, the world’s largest telescope, the European Extremely Large Telescope, is set to be built in Chile.

The telescope would allow astronomers to watch for new-forming stars and planets, and will search for the very first stars and galaxies in the universe.

Kealoha Pisciotta, president of Native Hawaiian group Mauna Kea Anaina Hou and one of the six petitioners involved in the case, argues that the construction of the telescope on a “spiritual and historic site” is a concern, and the state has a duty to take that into consideration.

Oral arguments were heard on Dec. 13 by Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura. Richard Naiwieha Wurdeman, the appellant’s legal counsel, said BLNR violated due process when approving the Conservation District Permit because the approval came before a contested case hearing was heard.

However, Stuart Handlin, legal counsel for UH-Hilo, argued BLNR has rules that allow for a contested case hearing to be held after any public hearing.

Julia China acted as legal counsel for BLNR at the Dec. 13 hearing and said the board was required to take into consideration the economic and social benefits of the project as well as its effects on the land at the time of the approval.

Representatives from the project said TMT will benefit the Big Isle’s economy by increasing the local workforce and providing $1 million a year in educational programs and scholarships to Hawaii Island students.

Pisciotta said the hearing is “unexpected,” but she “has faith in the system and believes that justice will prevail in the end.”

TMT spokesperson Sandra Dawson did not comment on the upcoming hearing.

Dawson previously told Stephens Media Hawaii that plans are in the works to start construction in the second quarter of 2014, pending a final decision of the TMT Board of Directors and a sublease granted by UH.

The hearing will take place at 8 a.m. Thursday in Nakamura’s courtroom.

TMT gains momentum: Mauna Kea Management Board votes in favor of proposed sublease

By MEGAN MOSELEY | Hawaii Tribune-Herald

TMT International Observatory will provide the follow amounts in rent following the approval of the sublease by the Board of Land and Natural Resources. The rent is based on construction milestones.

For the first three years, TMT will be paying $300,000. Money will go toward the Mauna Kea Management Board to enhance the continuation of its current services and 20 percent of the funds collected each year will go toward the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The amounts TMT would pay are:

• 4-5 years: $400,000 the year the telescope enclosure will be built

• 6-7 years: $600,000 when the structure will be built.

• 8-9 years: $700,000 instruments and mirrors are put in place.

• 10th year: $900,000 when they plan to commission the facility.

• 11 years after TMT will be paying $1 million dollars a year

The Thirty Meter Telescope project gained momentum Wednesday following a Mauna Kea Management Board vote in favor of the project’s proposed sublease Wednesday morning.

The board will recommend the University of Hawaii Board of Regents approve the sublease for construction of one of the world’s largest telescopes atop Mauna Kea at its Feb. 20 meeting at UH-Manoa.

The sublease falls under the university’s current master lease that allows telescopes atop Mauna Kea through 2033 and 2041.

If the BOR votes in favor of the sublease, it will head to the Board of Land and Natural Resources for final approval.

The board went through the conditions of the legal document prior to taking a vote.

Stephanie Nagata, director of the Office of Mauna Kea Management, said the sublease between TMT and UH addresses three key points — rent, decommissioning and what happens if a new master lease is approved by BLNR.

The sublease states TMT, under the name TMT International Observatory, will pay an annual rent to the Mauna Kea board. The rent is based on construction milestones for the project.

For the first three years, TMT will pay $300,000 followed by $400,000 for the fourth and fifth years together, $600,000 when the structure is built, $700,000 when the instruments and mirrors are placed, and $900,000 in the 10th year of construction. After that, TMT will pay $1 million a year while the telescope is in operation.

Payments begin pending BLNR’s approval of the sublease.

The money will go toward the board to enhance the continuation of its current services, and 20 percent of the funds will go toward the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Nagata also discussed language in the sublease requiring TMT to set funds aside for a decommissioning plan, with the plan being transparent and accessible to UH officials.

In terms of how the extension of the university’s current master lease will effect the sublease, Nagata said the document has a clause that will require TMT to meet criteria set by a new master lease.

UH officials are currently asking the state to extend the master lease through 2078, but that decision can’t be made until the university completes an Environmental Impact Statement.

Prior to the unanimous vote, one board member expressed concern about the approval process.

“It seems a little odd to me to approve a sublease while the master lease has been reviewed and has not yet been approved,” Hannah Kiahalani Springer said.

Public testimony was also heard at the meeting.

Roberta Chu, senior vice president and island manager at Hawaii Island Commercial Banking Center with the Bank of Hawaii; Jacqui Hoover, executive director of Hawaii Island Economic Development Board; and Hawaii County resident John McBride all spoke in favor of TMT.

When the BOR votes on the proposed sublease Feb. 20, TMT Corp. legal counsel will be at the 3rd Circuit Court in Hilo to speak on behalf of the case involving six petitioners opposing the state’s approval process for issuing a permit for the project.

Although Wednesday’s announcement was a step forward for TMT, Kealoha Pisciotta, one of the six petitioners involved in the case, said a ruling by Judge Greg Nakamura in their favor could effect future developments.

“It will definitely delay the process for sure,” she said.

But TMT spokeswoman Sandra Dawson said she took the MKMB’s approval as “a good sign.”

“It’s a very good sign that the Mauna Kea Management Board approves, wholeheartedly, the terms of the sublease and the community support for the meeting itself,” Dawson said.

The MKMB also discussed the installation of a photovoltaic system at the Hale Pohaku Mid-Level Astronomy Facilities, its volunteer efforts, and the decision to change the spelling of Mauna Kea to one word instead of two.

Mauna Kea board OKs decommission plans for TMT

By MEGAN MOSELEY | Hawaii Tribune-Herald

The estimated cost of decommissioning for what’s poised to be one of the world’s largest telescopes atop a sacred Hawaii mountain is $17.1 million.

That number was discussed, and debated, during Wednesday’s Mauna Kea Management Board meeting at the W.M. Keck Observatory Hualalai Learning Theater in Waimea. The board reviewed the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory, LLC decommissioning funding plan, eventually voting in its favor.

A draft of the international observatory’s proposed decommissioning plan was emailed to the Tribune-Herald earlier this week. According to the document, partners with the international observatory will establish a sinking fund, which would fully fund the cost of decommissioning the proposed observatory before the end of its expected life.

Rider Levett Bucknall, a global property and construction practice services agency with an office in Waikoloa, provided the cost estimate.

Pending approval of a sublease for the project from the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, funding would start at $1 million per year. The fund will be maintained for the 50-year life of the proposed observatory and payments will be adjusted annually for inflation. The funding plan is an associated cost estimate that would be reviewed and updated no less than every 15 years.

According to the plan, the sinking fund approach allows the international observatory to gradually prepay the cost of decommissioning and restoration, and will be implemented throughout the term of the proposed sublease, commencing with the first year of the telescope’s operations. Representatives from the international observatory think operations could begin in 2021.

The estimated amount includes the removal of all improvements made to the site, including the facilities, dome and all of the observatory’s internal components. In addition, all material foreign to the site would be removed under the proposed plan, and the site would be restored as closely as possible to what existed prior to construction.

The need for decommissioning funds for such projects stems from a decision in 2000, when the University of Hawaii adopted the Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan. That plan establishes the management structure for the university’s stewardship of the areas it oversees on Mauna Kea.

According to the Office of Mauna Kea Management’s website, the university leases 11,288 acres on Mauna Kea from the state, of which 525 acres are designated as the Astronomy Precinct.

In 2009 and 2010, the university adopted and the state land board approved the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan and its subplans, one of which outlines decommissioning and provides a framework for the eventual removal of observatories from the mountain and site restoration. Decommissioning will occur upon termination or expiration of the proposed sublease.

While the Mauna Kea Management Board was in favor of the plan, some Big Island residents are still skeptical.

E. Kalani Flores, a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner and one of six petitioners who challenged the state’s due process in issuing a Conservation District Land Use Permit for construction of the telescope, said he needed clarification as to what “full restoration” means.

“At the end, you have a large 5-acre scar on the surface of that site, and how is that being proposed to be restored?” he asked.

Mauna Kea Management board member Hannah Kiahalani Springer suggested maybe the language be changed.

Sandra Dawson, the international observatory’s spokeswoman, said the partnership took steps to ensure proper restoration of the area.

“They’ve taken photos of every inch of the area, so you know exactly what it looks like and when you’re done, you get it as close to that as possible,” she said.

Also present at the meeting was fellow petitioner and Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner B. Pua Case. She gave an emotional speech about the day’s discussion.

“I can’t believe that we’re even thinking about what we will un-destroy. What we should be doing is imaging what this immense construction of 18 stories will look like on the mauna,” she said.

Flores, Case and their fellow petitioners intend to appeal Hilo Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura’s ruling May 5 in favor of the project to the Hawaii state Supreme Court.

The Thirty Meter Telescope Observatory will be built on the northern plateau of Mauna Kea, at an elevation of roughly 13,150 feet and 1.5-miles northwest of the eight existing optical/infrared observatories located near the summit.

The observatory will consist of the telescope, adaptive optics system and instruments all contained in a dome, support building and a parking area. The facilities will be clustered within an approximately 5-acre site. The primary component of the telescope is the 98-foot (30-meter) segmented primary mirror, with 492 individual mirror segments that will function as a single mirror.

The sublease for the international observatory project is up for final review by the state land board. Land board officials will either approve or deny the terms of the sublease for the $1.3 billion project on June 13. If approved, construction could start within the next few months.

The sublease falls under the university’s current master lease that allows telescopes on Mauna Kea through 2033 and 2041. The university is currently conducting an environmental impact statement before getting a new lease, which could take several years.

The statement of intent for the decommissioning plan discussed Wednesday was signed by the international observatory partners. Partners include project manager Gary Sanders, a representative of the National Astronomical Observatories of Chinese Academy of Science, Katsuhiko Sato of the National Institutes of Natural Sciences, Edward M. Stolper, Interim President, California Institute of Technology, and former secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and current University of California president Janet Napolitano.

A request to see the signed document was not returned by press time.

Stephanie Nagata, president of the Office of Mauna Kea Management, said she thinks the international observatory’s decommissioning plan could set precedence for future leases.

THINK grant, scholarship would benefit students

By MEGAN MOSELEY | Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Big Island students interested in science, technology, engineering and math will have a chance to apply for new scholarship and grant funds next year, pending the construction of what is poised to be one of the world’s largest telescopes atop Mauna Kea.

Representatives from the California-based Thirty Meter Telescope project started The Hawaii Island New Knowledge (THINK) fund several years ago in an attempt to “reach out” to the Big Island community. The fund will provide an annual amount of $1 million for STEM-related education on the Hawaii Island.

However, construction of TMT is in the center of a legal battle, as a group of six petitioners, Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, seek to overturn the state’s decision to grant a Conservation District Permit for the $1.3 billion initiative.

Despite legal challenges, Sandra Dawson, Hawaii community affairs manager for TMT, previously said plans are in the works to move ahead with construction since there’s no injunction. Currently, the TMT Board of Directors is working out a sub-lease agreement with the University of Hawaii at Hilo and officials from both sides said construction is slated to begin next year.

Dawson said three-fourths of the $1 million THINK fund will go toward the Hawaii Committee Foundation, a philanthropic entity that provides scholarships and grants to students throughout the state. The remaining one-fourth will go toward the Honolulu-based Ke Ali‘i Pauahi Foundation, an organization that supports Kamehameha Schools.

Dawson said any THINK funds will go directly toward Big Island students and that the decision on who gets what funds each year will be made by a local group. The current members of the THINK organizing group are Roberta Chu, Greg Chun, Jacqui Hoover, James Takamine, and Ross Wilson, with Lydia Clements representing HCF and Keawe Liu representing the Ke Ali’i Pauahi Foundation.

Liu, executive director of Ke Ali‘i Pauahi Foundation, anticipates the money will have a “substantial impact on the Big Island.”

“We’re excited to do good in the community,” he said. “This is going to make a significant impact on the Hawaii Island and Hawaiian community. Ours will be through scholarships and grants.”

According to a 2010 article published on TMT’s web site, $1 million will be provided annually over the lifetime of the TMT sublease on Mauna Kea.

“TMT is designed for a lifetime of 50 years, and the $1 million per year will continue as long as TMT is on Mauna Kea,” she said.

The TMT project formed in 2003 and is supported by observatories and universities from Canada, Japan, China, India and the United States. The telescope is projected to begin operations in 2022, and was anticipated to be the world’s largest telescope made up of a primary mirror that would be approximately 30 meters long with 492 individual segments. Currently, the world’s largest telescope, the European Extremely Large Telescope, is set to be built in Chile.

TMT ‘workforce pipeline’ proposed

By MEGAN MOSELEY | Hawaii Tribune-Herald

More than 80 percent of observatory jobs are not scientist positions and almost all require a two or four year degree

According to a 2010 Hawaii Island Observatory Survey issued by Hawaii County, 40 percent of tech and administration jobs on Mauna Kea came from overseas and 86 percent of the workforce was not born and not raised on Hawaii Island.

Can the Big Island capitalize on the construction of one of the world’s largest telescopes atop Mauna Kea?

That’s the question a local workforce group is trying to answer.

Representatives from Big Island businesses, Hawaii Community College, University of Hawaii at Hilo and the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations are working in conjunction with Thirty Meter Telescope project managers to establish a “workforce pipeline program” that would, in theory, create a pathway for island residents and students interested in pursuing tech and observatory-related jobs.

Sandra Dawson, TMT spokesperson, said the consortium has high hopes the $1.3 billion project will influence the Big Island’s economy in the same way the implementation of a telescope affected the desert town of Tucson, Ariz.

“Theirs was copper; ours was sugar. When copper started dying, they needed something new,” Dawson said. “About that time, the National Science Foundation funded a telescope. That telescope is smaller than four of the telescopes we have on Mauna Kea. The people of the town saw an advantage to this. They started bringing experts in optics in and now they’re the world center for optics. The university and government thought about this as a way to move forward.

“We’re thinking that we have telescopes, more than they do in Tucson, and we are looking on how we would develop a high-tech industry around the observatories,” she said.

Several ideas are already in the works, including a new UH-Hilo engineering program Jerry Chang, director of university relations at UH-Hilo, said would develop a labor pool for projects such as TMT.

“Instead of hiring people out of state, let’s use our local workforce,” he said.

But first the island needs that workforce, which is why Dwight Takamine, director of DLIR, created the workforce group to ensure there’s enough local manpower available to accommodate the jobs needed for TMT.

Other ideas for workforce development were presented in a PowerPoint presentation to the Hawaii Island Legislative Delegation on Jan. 13. Some goals include “new and enhanced” HCC technology programs, observatory-related internships for Hawaii students and “incentives to attract new astronomy-related industry.”

One potential area would be for instrument development and operational support. Currently, all contracts for those jobs go overseas and cost $30 million to $40 million annually.

Also referenced in the PowerPoint were multiple surveys that showed a majority of observatory-related jobs in the past went overseas. In 2007, the Hawaii Island Observatory Survey found 40 percent of tech and administration positions went to overseas locations, and 86 percent of people hired were not born and not raised on Hawaii Island.

Construction of TMT is slated for April or May this year, despite being in the middle of a legal battle. A group of six petitioners is seeking to overturn the state’s decision to grant a conservation district land use permit for the TMT project. Both parties entered their final briefs Jan. 21 in Hilo 3rd Circuit Court and are awaiting Judge Greg Nakamura’s ruling.

With no injunction on the case, however, construction may continue.

The California-based TMT project formed in 2003 and is supported by observatories and universities from Canada, Japan, China, India and the United States. The telescope is projected to begin operations in 2022, and was anticipated to be the world’s largest telescope made up of a primary mirror that would be approximately 30 meters long with 492 individual segments.

TMT is developing the workforce pipeline program in partnership with UH-Hilo, HCCC, Department of Education and Hawaii County.

TMT case heads to court next week

By MEGAN MOSELEY | Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Legal counsel acting on behalf of Thirty Meter Telescope Corp. will head to court at 8 a.m. on Feb. 20.

The move comes after the TMT Corp. requested to file an amicus curiae brief, also known as a friends of the court brief, in the case involving six petitioners opposing the state’s approval process for issuing a permit for the construction of one of the world’s largest telescopes atop Mauna Kea.

Third Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura approved the corporation’s request during a January hearing.

An amicus curiae involves an entity that might not have a direct relationship to the lawsuit, and is not listed as a party, but someone who has precedential interest in the outcome.

TMT representatives will have a chance to make oral statements in court next week.

Kealoha Pisciotta, president of Native Hawaiian group Mauna Kea Anaina Hou and one of the six petitioners, said it’s unlikely they’ll get a chance to respond to statements made by TMT Corp. in court, but may submit a written response following the hearing.

The Tribune-Herald previously reported Douglas Ing, who represented TMT Corp. at the January hearing, told Nakamura the corporation decided to take action following a recent ruling by the Supreme Court of Hawaii regarding the issuance of a CD permit for the construction of a telescope on Maui’s Haleakala.

The Supreme Court ruled the Board of Land and Natural Resources should have held a contested case hearing prior to approving a permit.

The petitioners think the merits of their case are similar to those who won in the Supreme Court ruling.

TMT spokesperson Sandra Dawson said the amicus brief was filed, and next Thursday’s hearing will be one of the last steps before Nakamura makes a ruling.

She said TMT supporters are “very positive and optimistic.”

“We think we filed good briefs,” she said. “The briefs by TMT and the briefs by the university are very good.”

Dawson also said TMT representatives and the Mauna Kea Management Board will vote on terms regarding the university’s sublease for the $1.3 billion project.

Both parties are expected to vote on the terms at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the Institute for Astronomy conference room.

The meeting is open to the public.

Next week, the terms of the sublease for the project will go in front of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents for review.

TMT hearing set for Friday

By MEGAN MOSELEY | Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Oral arguments begin Friday in the case of six petitioners challenging the state’s decision to grant a permit for the construction of the world’s largest telescopes on Mauna Kea.

“We trust the system and pray for justice,” said Kealoha Pisciotta, president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, an organization of Native Hawaiians and one of the challengers of the Thirty Meter Telescope project.

Sandra Dawson, spokeswoman for California-based TMT project, is optimistic, as well.

“If the judge rules in our favor and they appeal again, without an injunction, we could still move forward,” she said.

Dawson said plans are in the works to start construction in the second quarter of 2014, pending a final decision of the TMT Board of Directors and a sub-lease granted by the University of Hawaii.

“We have technically given them a right of entry to do ground studies,” said Jerry Chang, director of University Relations for the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

The TMT project formed in 2003. The $1.3 billion initiative is supported by observatories and universities from Canada, Japan, China, India and the United States. The telescope is projected to begin operations in 2022, and was anticipated to be the world’s largest telescope made up of a primary mirror that would be approximately 30 meters long and made up of 492 individual segments. Currently, the world’s largest telescope, the European Extremely Large Telescope, is set to be built in Chile.

According to information provided by Dawson, it will allow astronomers to watch for new-forming stars and planets, and will search for the very first stars and galaxies in the universe.

But to Pisciotta and her fellow petitioners challenging the Board of Land and Natural Resources’s decision, the development of the telescope on a “spiritual and historic site” is of concern and that “the state has a duty to protect those rights.”

The footprint of the TMT Observatory dome, associated areas, and the area disturbed during construction is expected to be around 5 acres.

Dawson previously told the Tribune-Herald the telescope would be located on a plateau 500 feet below the other observatories and would be viewable from about 14 percent of the island. Pisciotta said they intend to fight the issue.

“If the judge rules in their favor we will appeal. We’re prepared to go to the Supreme Court,” she said.

Signatories of the TMT agreement include the Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy Institutional Council; California Institute of Astrophysics; National Astronomical Observatories of China; and the University of California.

Oral arguments will begin at 9 a.m. Friday before Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura.


Waipio Valley: The Valley of Kings

By MEGAN MOSELEY | Free Surf Magazine
Photograph by: Shawn Pila

Read about the endurance of a community protecting their native land here.