The construction phase beginning on the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project on Maunakea on Hawaiʻi Island has prompted protests and media coverage. The telescope is being built in the 525-acre Astronomy Precinct, which is the only area astronomy development can take place. It is part of the 11,288-acre Maunakea Science Reserve that UH has leased from the Department of Land and Natural Resources since 1968.
UH supports the TMT project because it contributes significantly to the university’s mission of advancing knowledge. With a primary mirror thirty meters in diameter, the TMT will have nine times the light collecting area of the largest telescopes now on Maunakea. It will be able to see much fainter and more distant objects than is possible with existing telescopes and to study them in greater detail. It will help to maintain Hawaiʻi’s worldwide leadership in astronomy.
The Office of Maunakea Management
Through the Office of Maunakea Management, which reports directly to the UH Hilo Chancellor, UH is responsible for the sustainable management and stewardship of the Maunakea Science Reserve. The university understands that Maunakea is one of the most culturally significant sites in Hawaiʻi.
The Master Plan adopted in 2000 by the UH Board of Regents requires community based management that protects, balances, integrates and enhances Maunakea’s resources while providing a world-class center dedicated to education, research and astronomy. The university is also responsible for providing safe access for everyone on the mountain: local residents, observatory personnel, cultural practitioners, visitors and UH staff.
UH’s commitment to free speech
UH is committed to the free and open exchange of ideas and affirms the rights of all individuals to engage in their first amendment right to free speech. The university respects everyone opposed to the TMT project and their right to a lawful protest.
The open and extensive public process
Over the last seven years, TMT has met all legal requirements in obtaining the necessary permits to build a next generation telescope from the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources and the County of Hawaiʻi, including a sublease from the university.
More than 20 public hearings have been held during the process and the project has been approved by then Governor Neil Abercrombie, the UH Board of Regents and the Board of Land and Natural Resources. The Hawaiʻi County Mayor and Office of Hawaiian Affairs along with numerous unions and Hawaiʻi Island community groups have expressed support. The project has also cleared legal challenges and was upheld in the Third Circuit Court.
There have been inaccurate claims made about the project recently. The most common is that TMT is a danger to the Maunakea aquifer and drinking water on Hawaiʻi Island. Comprehensive research by expert hydrologists confirms that TMT and the existing 13 telescopes pose no such danger. Furthermore, TMT is designed to be a zero waste discharge facility with all waste securely transported off the summit. There is also very little precipitation above 8,000 feet and the observatories are located well above that at the top of Maunakea at 14,000 feet.
- Download the TMT Environmental Impact Statement (see section 3–115)
Another claim is that TMT did not meet the eight criteria for a conservation district use permit issued by the Hawaiʻi Board of Land and Natural Resources in 2011. The Third Circuit Court ruled that TMT did meet the criteria by being consistent with state laws governing the districts, not causing substantial adverse impact to existing natural resources, being compatible with the surrounding area, preserving the existing physical and environmental aspects, not subdividing or increasing the intensity of the land use and not being materially detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare. State regulations specifically identify astronomy as a permitted use in the Maunakea Science Reserve.
Stewardship and community involvement
The Office of Maunakea Management has expanded community involvement. Its seven-member board is comprised of Hawaiʻi Island community leaders. There is also a Kahu Kū Mauna council that consists of Hawaiʻi Island residents who are knowledgeable about the cultural significance of Maunakea and are consulted on all projects proposed on UH-managed lands and cultural matters. The Office of Maunakea Management is responsible for continuing to address public access, cultural resources management, natural resources management and the decommissioning of telescopes.
The University of Hawaiʻi and the Office of Maunakea Management will continue to treat everyone with respect and aloha.
- Related link: “The search for knowledge on the summit of Mauna Kea is a sacred mission,” West Hawaiʻi Today editorial by Chad Kalepa Baybayan