This evening was the local hearing for the proposed Mauna Kea Public Access Rules. As the hearing took place at Waikoloa School I had no excuse not to go, it is practically at the end of our street. Of course I was going to attend even if I had to drive across island, this is an issue that directly affects me.
And yes, I testified, attempting to summarize my three pages of written testimony in three minutes. I suspect I got the gist across in a clear fashion, I will submit my written testimony as well.
Other than myself the testifiers were completely drawn from the anti-telescope community. It is unfortunate that the issue has become so polarized that no other members of the community attended. Access to the mauna affects more than just the astronomy and anti-astronomy folks, this should be of interest to anyone who calls the island home.
As such many of the testifiers paid scant attention to the contents of the rules, instead of providing constructive input so much testimony was simply another protest against the Thirty Meter Telescope. Some form of rules need to be put in place with or without the new telescope.
The usual misinformation was still being trotted out despite years of correct information being provided to the protest community. Mercury spills have damaged the aquifer, it is all for money and power, somehow the telescopes will literally destroy the mauna.
There were a couple testifiers who were just completely off the mark with no understanding of what actually goes on in the observatories. One accusing the telescopes of being military installations, stridently repeating information from some truly fringe sources.
The testifiers I come to hear are the true cultural practitioners, of which we do have a couple in the local community. They notably hit on those parts of the rules that matter… Public access hours, where and where you cannot go, the university overly limiting access to the mauna.
I do disagree on one key point that was mentioned several times, that cultural practitioners should have special access. I strongly assert that the rules should apply to all equally, both as a matter of principle and simply because there is really no way of properly determining who is, and who is not a practitioner.
I would also stress that the mauna should only be closed to access in the worst of conditions. The complaint was made several times during testimony that the rangers close access too readily. Since I do get to drive past the roadblock and see conditions on the summit for myself I have to agree with that observation.
Where does the university go from here? Testimony is again 100% negative, adopting the current draft rules in place would clearly show that the university is not properly considering public input. Indeed, they will most likely face another contested case or other form of legal challenge, a challenge they would have difficulty defending on the record.
Interestingly Mr. Flores suggested a good idea, the university should break to commercial sections of this rule package away from the public access sections, as the commercial rules seem to face no opposition.
It appears that the university board of regents will be meeting very soon to consider the results of this process. We will not need to wait long to see what they are going to do in response to the public input given this week.