Mauna Road

Two missions up into the saddle this week to go comet watching. Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE is rising in the northeast, blocked from view at home by the mauna, need to drive up to where I can see it.

With the comet as an excuse to get out well before dawn I may as well add a few secondary missions to the plan…

Make sure the drone batteries are charged for a few flights to photograph the saddle scenery at sunrise. The lava fields are spectacular at sunrise, one of my favorite places on the island.

The next mission is to photograph pueo along old Saddle Road. I tried two times, both times not a single bird to be seen. Where are the owls?

In any case a couple memorable trips into the dawn.

Looking down the Mauna Loa access road towards Mauna Kea
Looking down the Mauna Loa access road towards Mauna Kea

Flying the Summit

Governor Ige signed the new public access rules, drones would be illegal on the summit in ten more days.

Keck and Subaru in the snow atop the summit of Mauna Kea
Keck and Subaru in the snow atop the summit of Mauna Kea

With a deadline looming much sooner than I had contemplated there was a narrow window of opportunity. While I had wanted to fly the summit for a long time, I now had a few short days in which to do so. On January 23, 2020 the new rules would take effect.

The Office of Mauna Kea Management has attempted to restrict drone use on the summit by posting signs that drones are not allowed. Problem, they did this with no legal authority to do so. In conversations with OMKM staff I had pointed this out and received a quiet admission that it was true.

The new public access rules would change this… Flying a drone would be specifically prohibited on the science reserve, a civil offence with steep fines involved. With the governor’s signature those rules would be in force.

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Mauna Kea Public Access Rules Take Effect

On January 13th, 2020 Governor Ige signed the controversial rules governing public and commercial activities on Mauna Kea Lands. They take effect ten days from the signing, on January 23rd.

Mauna Kea sits above a fog shrouded Saddle Road
Mauna Kea sits above a fog shrouded Saddle Road

I have mixed feelings on these rules. Some of the rules are badly needed to control public activity atop the summit of Mauna Kea, rules that can help preserve and protect this place. I believe other rules go too far, attempting to regulate visitor activities that have no impact on the mauna.

My concerns on these rules are known, I have written about them here on DV and I have testified at each round of public hearings. I will not editorialize this time, the rules are now finalized. Those who go to the mauna should be aware of what has changed, and much has changed, expect these rules to be implemented in coming months.

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Were cultural sites destroyed when building observatories?

Another of the myths that plague this conversation. While not as commonly stated as some of the other myths discussed here, it has been persistent and seems to pop up regularly.

A photo of the Mauna Kea summit area from the Preston expedition of 1892
A photo of the Mauna Kea summit area from the Preston expedition of 1892

When the 12 existing facilities were built, not only were laws waived, heiau and ahus were bulldozed into trash heaps. 

wailana in a comment on Ian Lind’s blog 14Sep2019

The myth is clearly an attempt to show that the state callously allowed the destruction of cultural properties in the past, thus showing that the state does not care for Hawaiian issues and would break its own laws.

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Were the telescopes built without permits?

This is another fairly common myth about the existing telescopes on Mauna Kea, that most of the telescopes were built without permits or issued “after-the-fact” permits after construction.

UH88 under the Milky Way
The UH88 telescope under the stars of the Milky Way

This is another myth built on a kernel of truth, the two earliest of the remaining thirteen telescopes were built without proper conservation district use permits in place. What is now Hoku Kea was built by the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories and given to the university a couple years later. The UH88 was built by the University of Hawaii in 1968.

As this was the State of Hawaii building on state land, apparently things were a bit lax. In retrospect this is no surprise, the state government was scarcely a decade old at this point and many of the administrative rules and regulations we now take for granted were still being written and implemented.

This is where the myth comes in, as somehow the other telescopes are accused of the same issue. The claim often made is that “most of these structures were un-permitted”. This is often claimed as part of the evidence for mismanagement by the university.

This is incorrect… All of the remaining telescopes were built with proper permits in place. The key permits are the Conservation District Use Permits or CDUP’s that allow the use of state land on the summit of Mauna Kea. Permit numbers and dates are listed in the table below…

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