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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.

Inaccurate claims

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.

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.

This Post Has 24 Comments
  1. For Context i submit the following.
    May 3, 2013
    Kealoha Pisciotta
    P.O. Box 5864
    Hilo Hawai`i 96720

    The following is an Op-Ed in response to Mr. Baybayan’s 4/19/13 West Hawai`i Today Op-Ed.
    510 words
    Baybayan’s Truth Not The Whole Story
    By Kealoha Pisciotta
    Aloha. As a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner, I wish to respond to Mr. Chad Kalepa Baybayan’s opinion piece about Mauna Kea (4/19/13). First, Kalepa, mahalo for speaking your truth, as I believe that is one of the greatest forms of respect one may offer another. While I respect your truth, other important truths about Mauna Kea were omitted from your commentary, thus altering readers’ perspectives on the issue of Mauna Kea development. I wish to point out some omissions you may have forgotten to share. It is my hope that by doing so, a more complete story of Mauna Kea—and the impact of its astronomy development—will appear.
    The four most glaring omissions are as follows:

    1. You did not inform the readers that you work for the Imiloa Astronomy Center that has received funding from Gordon Moore, one of the Thirty Meter Telescope funders.

    2. That while testifying at the Contested Case Hearing, the University did not offer you as an expert witness nor were you qualified as an expert of the cultural practice relating to Mauna Kea–as were members of the Mauna Kea Hui, including Kumu Hula Paul Neves, Kumu Hula Pua Case and Mr. Kalani Flores of the Flores-Case Ohana, Mr. Clarence Kauakahi Ching and I.

    3. When questioned about your native Hawaiian practices relating to Mauna Kea, you answered that you understood Mauna Kea from the perspective of the sea. So you did not mention that construction of the TMT atop Mauna Kea would NOT directly impact your particular cultural or religious practice, as it would other Native Hawaiian practitioners—including members of the Mauna Kea Hui and me.

    4. Lastly, you mentioned that you are only one of four individuals that Papa Mau Piailug graduated into the rank of Master Navigator and while that must have been a tremendous honor for you, you failed to mention that others of that rank, including Nainoa Thompson, have spoken out in support of protecting Mauna Kea. While serving as a University Regent, Nainoa said of further development on Mauna Kea, “This is really about the native people being subject to racism and disrespect” (quoted in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, June, 21, 1999).

    In the end, the core issue is about the many Hawaiians whose practices will be negatively impacted. It`s about the `Aina that will be negatively impacted. Even the University’s Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) admits this fact: “From a cumulative perspective, the impact of past and present actions on cultural, archaeological, and historic resources is substantial, significant, and adverse: these impacts would continue to be substantial, significant, and adverse with the consideration of the [TMT] Project and other reasonably foreseeable future actions.” This means development is not good for either Mauna Kea or the people of Hawai`i.

    Aloha and Mahalo for listening to my truth too.
    Kealoha Pisciotta is a Native Hawaiian practitioner and one of the six petitioners in the BLNR Contested Case to protect Mauna Kea from further industrialization and desecration. She lives in Ola`a.

    1. “In the end, the core issue is about the many Hawaiians whose practices will be negatively impacted.”

      Which practices? Be specific. How does this particular telescope specifically prevent you from exercising your religion or whatever “practice” you are referring to.

      “This means development is not good for either Mauna Kea or the people of Hawai`i.”

      No, that’s not what it means. That is your interpretation.

      As a skeptic, I don’t believe Mauna Kea has any feelings on the matter. Thus, the real question is how do humans feel about it? Specifically, what makes your concerns more legitimate that everyone else’s. I’m just trying to understand how this telescope is preventing you from doing anything at all.

      1. Because you do not feel and are numb is exactly what makes you foreign to Hawaiian Culture. Hawaiians and many native cultures have a deep connection and spiritual connection to the land. It is tangible and palpable to those that feel. However they would never make you FEEL,because that it against their culture. Just because you do not FEEL does make it right or fair to push your lack of feeling. This is why many native Hawaiian keep their cultural practices secret and sacred so that they do not have to defend what you can not feel. Please just have aloha and respect for the culture. A proud alumni of UH MANOA.

        1. They come in, they take, they tell the people of the land what is best for them. It’s the American way. I stand with the Ohana even though I am not a native Hawaiian. Those who stand united to protect what is sacred….I stand with you!

      2. More concrete on the top of the world… more concrete on top of Hawai’i, Earth ‘s RAREST natural water aquafier… a place that has been forbidden from construction since the first arrival of mankind to Hawai’i… a place since the first 7 original voyages to Hawai’i, in which has ALWAYS BEEN FORBIDDEN TO CONSTRUCTION OR HUMAN ALTERATION… the TOP OF EARTH in the law of nature and mankind’s balance centered within it… is the core of such an Indigenous “religon” to a specific location in which many cannot believe that this is not JUST a religon but an OBLIGATION… an OBLIGATION that has been past down for generations since the mankind’s first set foot… it’s not hard to understand that the top of the mountain is a natural temple as is… just because the top has concrete already, doesn’t make it right to add more.

  2. It is a shame that during Merrie Monarch week we celebrate King Kalakaua’s revival of the hula and culture, but fail to mention that our last reigning King embraced the future and embraced astronomy! It seems conveniently forgotten that our King Kalakaua commissioned the first telescope here in Hawai’i and we seem to find his words irrelevant: “It will afford me unfeigned satisfaction if my kingdom can add its quota toward the successful accomplishment of the most important astronomical observation of the present century and assist, however humbly, the enlightened nations of the earth in these costly enterprises…”

    I also find it unsettling that so many people and kanaka maoli have boarded the bandwagon of protest, when there are a plethora of in my opinion major current issues that few have bothered to acknowledge or protest. i.e.: Pohakuloa!!! DU in the air, in the ground water, the millions it will cost to clean that up (and it won’t get cleaned at all or it will cost too much to do it sufficiently-look at Kaho’olawe) and daily people are driving through between Hilo and Kona with DU in the air. Where are the protestors? Too many ‘ohana are part of the military to say anything? Or how about the big resorts that keep popping up? How’s that impact on Hawaiian practices? But nice yeah fo’ stay hotel wit da kama’aina rate fo’ weekend vacation? Or how about the mall and Walmart and Home Depot etc. on Hawaiian homelands with how many kanaka maoli passing away on waiting lists? But what kanakas would give up all the cheap China crap, flat screen tv’s, entertainment systems and malls for what is pono, aloha ‘aina and actually stand out there and protest? Too much personal sacrifice to be pono in that situation. How many guys up there protesting would give up their big trucks for a small “egoless” nondescript environmentally conscious car or bike? I hope both those protesting and not protesting will actually reflect within themselves and take a look at how they are truly living. We all need to do that! When I see signs of “aloha ‘aina”, “for da keiki” in regards to the TMT I am stunned. How about “aloha ‘aina”, “for da keiki” in regards to GMO’s, the military takeover and their blatant abuse of land, giving up the American lifestyle of fast food, big trucks, large TV screens and convenience? Anyone willing to boycott buying GMO laden products to get chemical corporations off our lands? That would actually get the ball moving but “too hard! I like eat all my addictions! But I will protest on Mauna Kea because I don’t have to change my lifestyle down here in Hilo!”

    To me as a kanaka maoli connected to the ‘aina, taking note of my own personal footprint, I do support the TMT. Of course there will be impact. There will be impact with everything we do in life and especially in this modern age, but what kind of impact/legacy do you want to leave? Creating more service jobs in hotels and chain stores like Walmart for the keiki? Auwe, that’s more pollution in our landfills and ocean, and taking away opportunities from our children. I support educating the keiki on their rich navigational heritage and giving them the advanced skills that will take them out of low paying service jobs. And I definitely support educating keiki on malama ‘aina and instilling them love and respect for where they come from and where they are living. But I also support the necessity of the human spirit to reach for more, to look into the sky and show us the magnificence of Akua’s universe. To look for answers to some of our very human questions regardless of ethnicity. I believe our navigators of old would be amazed at what we have seen through these telescopes in this day, and what we are going to be able to see through this next phase of telescopes. And I’m sure many of them would think of the telescopes as sacred instruments with a closer connection to Akua. And in keeping with the bold, exploratory Hawaiian spirit, I wouldn’t be surprised to find a kanaka maoli finding a way to navigate the galaxies.

    1. Thank you Kapueo – I couldn’t have said it better myself. Imua TMT and the science and astronomy community and their families. I support you.

    2. Kapuea – mahalo for your insight. You provide an explanation that is real, not perceived. I too agree that there are so many more problems, and real environmental and cultural impacts, occurring EVERYDAY with no public outcry. This TMT “issue” is important because famous people say it is so. Hawaiians need to recognize that this TMT “issue” is but a distraction from the real problems facing our State. While the protesters are all up on the mountain, there is a new home being built to close to the shoreline blocking fishing access, a new mall is being constructed covering needed Agricultural Lands, and Hawaii’s future (keiki) are getting a substandard education. Way to go.

    3. I guess you haven’t noticed, but there ARE activists concerned and working against Pōhakuloa and military occupation on the islands. There ARE activists working against GMOs on the islands. The tired device of “but what about all these other problems” is just an attempt to distract and sway people who don’t have solid opinions on matters. There are people who criticize anti-GMO folks and anti-military folks for not focusing on “more important” issues. Yes, all of the injustices and atrocities you mention are important to take note of and work to correct…mahalo for naming them and all you are doing in your own life to address them. Oh and next time you talk to Kalākaua (since you and TMT supporters seem to have a direct line to him and other monarchs who’ve been deceased for over a century), ask him if an 18-story building on the top of Mauna Kea is what he had in mind rather than, say, a five-inch refractor built a few hundred feet above sea level on O‘ahu. Please report back and let us know what he says.

    4. why is it so hard to understand why Hawaiians have shown so much support for this protest? when have we as a people EVER, in recent memory, came together to support a cause in unity like this? All of us Hawaiians (and non-Hawaiians) have wrestled with all the issues that you bring up (GMO, military, hotels, etc..) but when have we ever come together with this kind of support?

      Go and start a petition against GMOs on the B.I. Braddah I’ll be the first to sign it and I guarantee a lot more people will too. This protest on Mauna kea is just the beginning, it is the awakening of our people. The momentum we gain from this movement will hopefully result in protesting against the other issues you brought up. Also look what happened to Maui, the people voted and won and guess what the county is doing? Nothing.

      Building a telescope the size of Aloha stadium is not the only way we can benefit from observing the heavens. Hawaiians built one of the most sustainable cultures in the world by studying celestial objects. Studying the heavens does not have to come at a price to our culture.

      The only way the military would leave hawaii is if we get America out of here. And if you’ve been to any of the DOI hearings that were held state wide, you’d know that there was PLENTY of protest against the military here.

      Trust that this Mauna kea issue is not the only problem stirring in all of our na’au. There are many issues that we all need to address, now that we’ve all come together in unity for something maybe we can tackle other things.

  3. […] There are currently thirteen telescopes on Mauna Kea. The basis for the new telescope is that it will be far more advanced than the ones already in existence – “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” ( […]

  4. […] There are currently thirteen telescopes on Mauna Kea. The basis for the new telescope is that it will be far more advanced than the ones already in existence – “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” ( […]

  5. How can I get a location map of the physical location of where the TMT site is in relation to all the others observitory’s?

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