Governor Ige Steps In

After weeks of being pretty much silent on the controversy, Governor Ige has issued a statement on the ongoing issue of TMT construction. It was big news around this place, pretty much the entire staff of Keck Observatory piled into our big conference room to watch the governor’s address live.

Mauna Kea Summit
The true summit of Mauna Kea
The announcement contained no real surprises, rather a set of pragmatic proposals that attempt to move the issue forward. The governor outlined his proposals as a list of bullet points. These may seem to be merely proposals, but I would be very surprised these proposals would be announced without at least the tacit agreement of the various parties involved. There must have been a good deal of behind-the-scenes negotiation.

From Governor Ige’s press release

First, my responsibility begins with the State of Hawai‘i and our need to change the way we exercise responsibility for the mountain.

  1. We will change the management of the entire summit, all of which is state land, to bring cultural voices into the leadership structure so that all acts from here forward are sensitive to and observant of culture.We are establishing a Mauna Kea Cultural Council to work with the Board and the Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the Governor’s Office, to do a better job.Among the tasks for this group will be the review of all leases and lease renewals, of all proposed rules impacting the mountain especially those relating to access, of any EIS preparation and any cultural impact assessments, of decommissioning plans and execution, working on leasing portions of the mountain to cultural groups, and the reconciliation of the various other uses of the mountain including native species protection and forestry.We are currently putting the group together and hope to make an announcement on that shortly. In asking people to be part of this work, I am not making support for TMT a requirement of those who agree to serve…
  2. We are also committed to doing a much better job of monitoring compliance with all activities under any leases or sub-leases, and to act immediately if there are issues that need resolution. Such action may include the reopening of current leases or the suspension of processing extension requests.

Governor Ige asked the University of Hawai‘i to take 10 significant actions related to enhanced stewardship in general and to the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT), specifically.

  1. Accept its responsibility to do a better job in the future.
  2. Formally and legally bind itself to the commitment that this is the last area on the mountain where a telescope project will be contemplated or sought.
  3. Decommission – beginning this year – as many telescopes as possible with at least 25 percent of all telescopes gone by the time TMT is ready for operation.
  4. Restart the EIS process for the University’s lease extension and conduct a full cultural impact assessment as part of that process.
  5. Move access rules that significantly limit and put conditions on non­cultural access to the mountain expeditiously through the process.
  6. Require training in the cultural aspects of the mountain and how to be respectful to the cultural areas for anyone going on the mountain.
  7. Substantially reduce the length of its request for a lease extension from the Board of Land and Natural Resources.
  8. Voluntarily return to full DLNR jurisdiction all lands (over 10,000 acres) not specifically needed for astronomy.
  9. Ensure full use of its scheduled telescope time.
  10. Make a good faith effort to revisit the issue of payments by the existing telescope now as well as requiring it in the new lease.

There is a bit more to the announcement and press release, I included only a section of it here. Click through to get the whole text. The governor made his points as a list, but the particular items that struck me as interesting is a somewhat shorter list.

  1. The TMT constuction may proceed, the protesters may protest, but laws will be enforced and the road kept open
  2. A high level cultural advisory committee will be formed
  3. There may be future rules on limiting public access
  4. The scheduled removal of several telescopes

I expect TMT construction to re-start soon. My personal guess is not this week, but not much later than that, next week? I expect to be on the mountain quite a bit in the coming month, my project schedule is reaching the installation phase in the dome. It would be interesting to be there when the first trucks arrive.

A new advisory council? The Kahu Kū Mauna council has fulfilled this role in the past, but that is under OMKM, the governor’s proposal is significantly higher level. I hope that any new council includes members of the current Kahu Kū Mauna council as they bring a great deal of knowledge and experience into the discussion.

The public access issue and the governor’s expressed feelings about the current usage of the mountain are very interesting. The visitor load on the summit has become an issue, many expressing the feeling that too many people are up there. I have mixed feelings on this myself, it can be quite crowded on the summit, particularly at sunset and on snow days. But how do you tell people that they can not go somewhere that is essentially a public place?

I have heard plans proposed that would ban public vehicles on the summit, installing a shuttle bus service to provide access in a more controlled manner. But this has issues as well. How much would it cost? Would there be passenger fees? Too high a fare would discourage local people from visiting their mountain, creating resentment. I do think the state needs to prioritize freeing up some real money to improve the public facilities at Hale Pohaku whatever happens. Decent sized parking lots are needed now and could provide parking for a shuttle service.

The removal of 25% of the existing facilities over the next decade? No surprise, the goal has always been to reduce the footprint of astronomy on the mountain, the CMP states this. The schedule is new and would include at least three telescopes by my interpretation. One of these is already scheduled to occur, the decommissioning of CSO. Two others? This gets more interesting. Hoku Kea is the first obvious candidate, the student telescope has been plagued with operational issues since a botched renovation. It has never been properly functional since. All of the other telescopes are operational. So which ones? That makes for a contentious question.

Hopefully this is the turning point in the entire process. TMT allowed to proceed and concessions from the university on the management of Mauna Kea. This will not satisfy the hardcore telescope opponents, but there were no realistic solutions for that situation in any case. What does happen when the first trucks of equipment try to get to the summit is another question.

Update: I had embedded the video of the press conference above, then it was removed from YouTube. The UofH has re-posted the video on Vimeo, so I am embedding it below…

Governor Ige's Maunakea news conference from University of Hawai'i System on Vimeo.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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