Finding a way forward on Mauna Kea, TMT
Capitol Connection, from Office of the Governor, September 16, 2019
Few issues in recent memory have been more controversial for Hawai‘i than the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project. As people weigh in on all sides, Governor Ige continues to believe that respect for Mauna Kea can be reconciled with astronomy and that Native Hawaiian culture and modern science can work together to benefit the whole community. This edition provides more perspectives on the TMT project and efforts like the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, which is setting an example for the future.
Q and A with Governor David Ige:
Q. What do you see as the way forward to resolve this issue peacefully?
A. From the most recent polls, we know the majority of people in the islands support the Thirty Meter Telescope project for the benefits it can provide the state and the world. After 10 years of legal review and thousands of pages of documents and testimony from all sides, it has been determined the project has the right to proceed, and as governor I’m obligated to enforce the law. It’s important to know that TMT planners listened to community, cultural and environmental concerns and made changes where needed. This included relocating the telescope from the summit ridge and contributing to conservation of the area as well as STEM education. As the leader of this state, I want to work with protest leaders and others to come to a reasonable resolution that ensures safety and respects the law. We can achieve a better future for everyone when we work together.
Q. What concerns you most about the current controversy?
A. If the activists say there’s no compromise, then it leaves the state with few options. We will enforce the law while making people aware of the facts that have been part of this decade-long legal process. A lot of misinformation is being circulated so we want to provide factual, accurate details so people can base their opinions on sound information rather than rumors. We encourage everyone’s patience as we work to find a peaceful way forward that respects community concerns and deeply held feelings.
Q. Your 10-point plan from 2015 proposed major improvements for Mauna Kea stewardship. Why did you feel that was needed?
A. I thought the state needed to do a better job of managing the entire summit. Most of the elements of the plan are in motion and several are reflected in the findings affirmed by the Hawai‘i Supreme Court. Included in the report approved by the Board of Land and Natural Resources are 43 special conditions related to the environment, education, cultural practices and jobs for the TMT to be implemented. The university has been listening to concerns and has committed to taking down several existing telescopes. The fact is, even with the TMT, there will be less development on Mauna Kea than currently exists.
Q. Mayor Harry Kim has said, “For us to go forward, we have to understand the whole issue of discontent, dating back to 1893” (when Queen Lili‘uokalani abdicated the throne). Would you agree?
A. Yes, and I would be the first to say that we have much more work to do to right the wrongs of the past. But we shouldn’t discount the progress we’ve made as a community — decisive, corrective action to improve the lives of Native Hawaiians — ranging from the public Hawaiian immersion programs to the creation of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and record-high funding for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. One of the protest leaders noted that I worked with Governor Waihee to establish the first Hawaiian immersion programs on O‘ahu and Hawai‘i island in 1987. It was clear to me then that saving the language was fundamental to saving the culture. I thought if our citizens could be fluent in Hawaiian and English, that would be the best of all worlds. Yes, some of those citizens are on the mauna now, but I still believe we can support both the Hawaiian culture and projects like the TMT.
Findings and conditions for the TMT to proceed
From its initial site selection in 2009 to the notice to proceed in July 2019, the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea has undergone unprecedented legal and community scrutiny. The process involved numerous public hearings, court appeals, and, finally, a 2018 Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruling that upheld a Conservation District Use Permit approved by the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR).
After listening to stakeholders on all sides, TMT hearings officer and former Judge Riki May Amano issued a 305-page report in 2017 that included more than 40 conditions covering management, environmental, cultural, workforce and education concerns. These ranged from a “zero waste management” policy to mandatory cultural and natural resources training for employees and local STEM education funds, job training and hiring. Here is a summary of some of the report’s findings from BLNR:
• Environmental protection - The TMT will not pollute groundwater, will not damage any historic sites, will not harm rare plants or animals, will not release toxic materials, and will not otherwise harm the environment.
• Cultural protection -The TMT site was not used for traditional and customary native Hawaiian practices conducted elsewhere on Mauna Kea, such as depositing piko, pilgrimages, or burials. The site is not on the summit ridge but rather 500 feet lower.
• Ceremonial practices - The TMT will not interfere with ceremonies or other spiritual practices. It cannot be seen from the actual summit and will not block views from the summit ridge of the rising sun, setting sun, or Haleakalā.
• Support for both Hawaiian culture and science - While some witnesses wanted more protection for Mauna Kea, others, including some Native Hawaiians, see TMT as a project that honors the mountain rather than injures it. They believe respect for Mauna Kea can be reconciled with modern astronomy.
• Support for education, conservation - TMT will contribute $1 million a year for STEM education and has a sublease agreement committing $300,000/yr. at first, increasing to $1 million/yr. for Mauna Kea conservation.
• Support for the local community and respect for cultural practices - Astronomy directly supports about 1,000 jobs in Hawai’i. TMT will employ about 140 people. The conditions in the report are meant to ensure that the project lives up to its environmental commitments, that the educational fund will help the underserved members of the community, that TMT will train and hire local workers, and that the Native Hawaiian cultural presence at Hale Pohaku will be enhanced.
In 2014, the TMT project launched the THINK fund (The Hawai‘i Island New Knowledge) to prepare students for STEM fields and become the workforce for higher-paying science and technology jobs. Since then, two foundations — Hawaii Community Foundation (HCF) and Pauahi Foundation — have distributed more than $5.1 million in THINK funds for student scholarships and grants on Hawai‘i island. HCF reported reaching 20,000 students and 97 schools and nonprofits. Pauahi Foundation’s focus has been on academic and science camp scholarships. All of those recipients are Native Hawaiian.
The ‘silent majority’ speaks out
Among Native Hawaiian TMT supporters are a grandfather and his grandson who want to encourage others to show support for the project and astronomy in Hawai‘i. The grandfather is Oliver Crowell, a Kamehameha Schools alumnus interviewed by KGMB’s Hawaii News Now. Crowell said he knows of many Native Hawaiians who support TMT but are reluctant to speak out since the issue has become so personal.
According to the news report, Crowell said the state can’t afford to pass up the educational benefits of the project. “Some of us who look back at our lives see the opportunities that lie ahead for young students today, what we never got. I wouldn’t want them to miss out on that,” he said.
Meanwhile, Crowell’s grandson Cody wrote his own letter to Governor Ige and came to one Imua TMT rally with his family. In his letter, Cody wrote: “Please hear me as a young Hawaiian. I’m only 12 years old, but my heart feels like an ancient Hawaiian soul. I believe my ancestors would want the telescope for me, for our world. Why would we fight when we have the attention of the world. Now is our time to show we can unite. We can make a difference the world can follow. You made the world listen. Now make them see how intelligent we are, how we can work together.”
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