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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Was the real summit of Mauna Kea destroyed to make way for a telescope?

The idea that one of the existing telescopes sits on what was the real summit of Mauna Kea is persistent.

Mauna Kea Summit Alexander 1892
Mauna Kea summit as surveyed by W. D. Alexander in 1892

and NO there is NO RECTIFYING of the DAMAGES TO MAUNA KEA!!! Damnit man they sheered OFF the summit to INSERT the Kecks into The Pu’u that was the SUMMIT. What an ignorant thing to say!!!

Susan Rosier in a Facebook comment, 4 Aug 2019

While not a common claim this idea keeps popping up. It was even repeated by Kealoha Pisciotta under oath during the contested case. In her case she claimed it was the nearby summit ridge that was shaved off, and they “just moved the summit”.

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Midnight Run

The phone rang just as I was going to bed.

This phone call had a number I knew all too well, even without the caller ID showing the name… K1 Remote Operations. A this time of night it would be a problem, a serious problem. This particular problem would have me on the road back to the summit an hour later.

Keck at Night
Looking towards the Keck 2 dome on a moonlit night

Midnight runs to the summit are not common, but they do occur in my life. Usually we can work remotely, the night attendant serving as our remote eyes and hands. Just press the right button, flip the correct switch, done. Not this time. We tried, for over an hour we tried.

I really did not want to head back up. I had just gotten down a few hours ago, having spent the day on the summit working on the usual long list of things that need to get done. Days on the summit, in the thin air of nearly 14,000ft elevation are physically draining.

The irony of this malfunction is that I had seen it before. The dome had tripped out inexplicably on previous occasions. The problem would occur then disappear. Once it vanished you could not troubleshoot it. Unlike most of our other systems there are no logs from the shutter drive, nothing records what was going wrong.

The Friday before this it had happened to me again. But this time was different, I had a maintenance computer attached to the PLC serial port. This time I saw the error, something in the code labeled speed mismatch. No idea what this was, or how it worked. Again the error disappeared, and I could not troubleshoot further as the weather was getting worse. No opening the shutters again.

I needed a chance to figure out what this fault was… Later that day I read through the code, figured out this feature was a speed check to insure that both sides of the shutter are driven evenly. A check to compare the right and left sides of the shutter and to fault if the difference is too large. Two words of memory were compared, if the difference was too large it faulted the shutter drive.

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It was one of those weeks…

It was one of those weeks.

Keck 2
The Keck 2 telescope, iPhone photo processed in Prisma
It did not look like it was going to be a bad week. The schedule was for a light week with nothing serious envisioned. Better yet, Tuesday was scheduled to be our departmental retreat, a day at the beach with the operations crew, all good.

One. Deb is having a bad spell. With little warning I took off Monday afternoon to drive her down to Kona to spend a couple hours in the infusion lab for medication.

Two. Monday would just not die easily… The phone calls began just after sunset. The Keck 1 hydraulic bearing system would not come on properly, shutting down just after the main pump came online. It became quickly apparent that I would be joining John and Justin for a trip to the summit in the middle of the night.

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Accessing the Summit of Mauna Kea Follow Up

Yesterday’s post stirred a blaze of comments over on Facebook, there are 50 shares and climbing fast. While there were those who took both sides of the sign, the majority seem to agree with the opinion I put forth in yesterday’s post. Most agree that the sign is inappropriate and quite possibly counterproductive.

Paul Hirst That sign annoys me, I think it’s ineffective at best, and very probably counterproductive. I too have hiked up there many times, but not since the sign appeared. Though to be honest and having given it more thought now, I don’t think the sign would stop me if I wanted to go again, though it may have dissuaded me in the past at times when I might otherwise have gone.

Summit Access
The sign asking for people to not hike to the true summit of Mauna Kea
The fundamental problem I have with it is that it’s completely un-enforceable, so it has the effect where now the people who do go are the ones who ignored the sign and thus perhaps less likely to respect other things like not disturbing things or leaving litter. Essentially, it reduces the number of people who go to the true summit and take care to have minimal impact on the land, and it has no impact on the number of people who will go up there and don’t care so much. So it just alienates the people who they ought to be befriending as allies in caring for the mountain.

Lynn Paul Richardson I respect cultural sites and always remain within designated walkways. This sign rings hollow to many people who would normally pause at that point.

A fair point was raised in considering the impact that foot traffic has on the summit… Erosion of the area could be an issue. Though I believe this could be mitigated with proper trail maintenance.

Matthew J D’Avella In my opinion people should stay off the true peak for several reasons. Erosion being my number one reason.

Quite a few have suggested that the sign be replaced with something that educates visitors to the importance of the site, request that the be respectful, and stay on the marked trail to minimize the impact to the area.

Chris Runnells Yeah I’m not sure I agree with that. The mountain is sacred to many people regardless of whether or not you’re of Hawaiian ancestry. It’s possible to go to the summit and be respectful without having Hawaiian blood. I think this sign should be replaced with a message to tread with care, pack out what you pack in, etc. I doubt it’s going to actually stop anyone.

I fully agree with different, better signage. This is an idea I should have thought of when writing yesterday’s post, my thanks to those who suggested it. I will probably compile the comments into a letter to Stuart at OMKM, maybe we can get the sign changed. My thanks to the many who commented on this, a productive discussion!

The kerfuffle has served to illustrate the issues that access to Mauna Kea exemplifies. This is a public land access issue. Do you set aside areas as off-limits to the public to appease a specific cultural group. Or should public land be open to everyone, the people of the State of Hawaii? Having had Hawaiian protesters yell at me “Get off our mountain!”, I have to push back. Mauna Kea belongs to all of us, we should care for it, but we can not close access to anyone like this.