Friday marked another important step forward for the future of astronomical discovery and economic opportunity on Hawaii Island. The Hawaiian Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) announced that it has granted a permit to the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project to build and operate the next-generation observatory near the summit of Mauna Kea.With this approval, the BLNR has recognized TMT’s goal of responsible development and environmental stewardship of Mauna Kea in close partnership with local interests. The carefully considered conditions in the permit help ensure the protection of sensitive environments in Hawaii.
“Over the last several years, the TMT project has welcomed the support it has received from all sectors of the Hawaiian community, from education to cultural to business to labor,” said Sandra Dawson, TMT’s Manager of Hawaii Community Affairs. “We look forward to beginning construction and becoming a neighbor of the outstanding observatories on Mauna Kea.”
Beaches? Tropical gardens? The volcano? Yeah, BTDT, not what I came to Hawaiʻi for. Visiting Mauna Kea is at the top of the list for some folks who visit our island, a priority I can fully understand. Even better? Bring a camera to this spectacular mountain. After six years of working on Mauna Kea I still carry a camera and find new shots. Some of the most fascinating photographic opportunities occur after the Sun has set. For those who pursue shots in the dark, long exposure photography, the summit provides a setting that is worth the effort to shoot.The summit is open after dark, but not unconditionally, I need to stress some explanations concerning that. Officially the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan limits public recreational use to ½hour before dawn and ½hour after dark. This has not been strictly enforced any time in my experience on the mountain. There is no gate in use, you will see people drive up the summit road in the middle of the night.
So what are the real rules for summit access after dark?
A nice opinion piece by Chad Kalepa Baybayan in the local paper yesterday. He addresses the use of the summit of Mauna Kea for astronomy. There are some in the local community that object to the telescopes. While those very vocal opponents often grab the attention, they are by no means representative of the whole community. It is more complex than that, there are those in the Hawaiian community that support astronomy, and those opposed, and probably quite a few who are somewhere between those two positions.
Using the resources on Mauna Kea as a tool to serve and benefit the community through astronomy is consistent with the example of the adze quarry. To value astronomy and its work on Mauna Kea, you have to value the importance of “Ike,” knowledge, and its quest for a greater understanding of the universe we live in. – Chad Kalepa Baybayan, West Hawaii Today, April 19th, 2013
Give it a read!
By now you should have heard… The approval made national and international news. The Hawai’i state Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) has granted final approval to the Conservation District Use Permit. This marks the end of the contested case hearing, essentially the final legal hurdle for construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.This occurs after years of moving through the approval process including dozens of hearings, public meetings, lawsuits, and more. This should be the last major legal challenge that the project will face. If everything goes to plan construction should break ground about this time next year. In the meantime a number of other processes may start, including geotechnical work and local staffing.
It is in reading the decision that you can learn much about the process. The news articles rarely cover anything beyond superficial details. The legal documents cover the arguments against building TMT atop Mauna Kea in great detail. The decision just published includes a legal response to all of the issues raised including references to each applicable statute and precedents.
At some points there were half a dozen different groups of whales in sight at the same time. The spotters called whale activity in a confusing chorus of activity and locations. The annual Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count picked a pretty good day. Given the recent winter storm I had half expected to be rained out, some of the east Hawai’i sites were, but we had perfect conditions.Last month a thin haze that hampered visibility, the resorts on the far shore barely visible. This year we could count tourists on the beach at the Mauna Lani about 10 miles away. Some of the whales we spotted were in front of Kiholo Bay about 16 miles to the south. When the visibility is good, the Mile Marker 7 is one of the best whale watching sites in the entire island chain.
Not that we always needed to look that far, often enough the whales were at the base of the bluff, just a few hundred yards below us. In one half hour data interval we counted 24 breaches. Just a few whales around.
No argument, it was a good morning to be counting whales. From the looks of the preliminary results, our site counted far more whales than any other site across the islands. No surprise, this stretch of coast is always thick with whales. The only sites that challenge MM7 are the sites just north and south, Lapakahi and Pu’ukohola Heiau, from the data those folks had a good day as well.