Preparing for the Storm

There will be protests, that much is clear. Beyond that certainty there is no certainty. When? How big? How long? We just do not know, it is likely no one does.

A mamane tree in the fog atop Mauna Kea
A mamane tree in the fog atop Mauna Kea

As we prepare for the restart of construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, those of us whose lives revolve around the mauna can only guess and prepare best we can.

While there is news of plans at the state and county level to deal with the protests, there is little information on the details in those plans. Both sides are keeping their cards close. We are given to understand that the county will be the lead agency it is clear that there will be state support.

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Arguing with a Flerf

What is a flerf?

Flerf is simply short for a flat earth fanatic, a little easier to type than the whole thing. Some may consider this derogatory, I do not particularly see it as so. Well? Maybe a little. But considering what I have been called by flerfs, I have no regrets.

Chang'e 5 Earth and Moon
The Chang’e 5 test vehicle service module took this photo of Earth and the Moon together. Credit CSNA

Our local flerf goes by the screen name of Adam Asing. That might even be his real name as there is a local musician of the same name. We have occasionally identified other screen names he uses, probably because he has been blocked under his primary alias in so many media outlets.

I would probably not normally notice Mr. Asing, except he routinely attacks the telescopes in just about any media he still has access to. As such he intentionally makes himself a target. As such I sometimes respond… It can be so much fun!

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Legislative Rebuff

It appears that every single bill attempting to address Mauna Kea issues is dead, at least for the 2019 session.

The moon rising in partial eclipse over the mauna shadow
The moon rising in partial eclipse over the mauna shadow

March first is a deadline referred to as ‘first decking’ in local legislative lingo. This is the date by which the bill must be in final form to allow review before the final votes. No vote, no crossover, being passed to the opposite chamber, house or senate.

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Mauna Kea Rules… Take 2

After last year’s debacle that occurred when trying to introduce administrative rules for public and commercial access to Mauna Kea, the University of Hawaii is back with a heavily revised version.

The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope surrounded by the sunset crowd
The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope surrounded by the sunset crowd

How bad were the original version of the rules? In many areas they seemed to be badly thought out, with language far too expansive. Even a cursory reading reveals that the rules were not reviewed by someone familiar with some of the technical language used. Many of the proposed rules would have created safety issues, or even devoid of common sense.

It does appear that they actually listened to the criticism that was received in written form and at the public hearings. Many of the complete gaffes have been removed or reasonably revised.

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The 2019 State Legislature and The Mauna

The deadline for the introduction of new bills in the Hawaii legislature’s 2019 session has passed and we can see that at least six bills directly address Mauna Kea.

Mauna Kea seen at dawn from Mauna Loa
Mauna Kea seen at dawn from Mauna Loa

We have previously discussed HB1067, the development moratorium bill addressing Mauna Kea lands above 6,000ft. The remainder are less direct, but are no less aimed squarely at the controversies surrounding new astronomy facilities on Mauna Kea.

  • HB1067 Prohibits any development on conservation lands of the Mauna Kea summit at 6,000 feet above sea level and higher.
  • SB905 Requires the lessor of a master lease for public land to receive reasonable compensation.
  • SB916 Requires that the board of land and natural resources make certain determinations before approving public land dispositions. Restricts the board of land and natural resources from approving the disposition of public lands under certain circumstances
  • SB918 Limits the term of certain public land leases, including any extensions, to no more that thirty-five years.
  • SB933 Requires that the board of land and natural resources conduct a rent review of all leases and subleases of public land once every ten years.
  • SB936 Removes 2/3 of the funds from the university managed Mauna Kea special fund. 1/3 to a new Hawaiian Homelands managed special fund. An additional 1/3 to a new Department of Land and Natural Resources special fund.

Many of these bills do not address the mauna by name, but even a quick reading and familiarity with the issue reveals that there is no other reason for these bills to have been advanced.

What do all of these bills have in common? With the exception of House Bill 1067 all of the senate bills were introduced, and likely authored in large part by state Senator Kaialiʻi Kahele.

It appears that Senator Kahele has made it his mission to destroy astronomy on Mauna Kea. When last year’s blatant attempts in the legislature failed, he has become more circumspect, attempting to add layers of bureaucratic barriers to changing anything on the mauna.

SB916 is the clearest example of this. Not only would it likely make any use permit of Mauna Kea legally impossible, it would have the same effect on all state lands.

It is worth going through the bills individually, considering the possible implications of the language. Over the next few days DarkerView will do just that, examining each of these bills.

Taken individually some of these bills seem reasonable enough, when considered as a group it becomes clear there is a distinct goal. This is not about improving management or oversight of the mauna, there are better ways to accomplish improvement. This is about ending astronomy on Mauna Kea.

HB1067 Mauna Kea Development Moratorium

With the Hawaii state legislature now in session we now have a clear view of those bills targeting the controversy on Mauna Kea. While of the bills concerning the mauna are indirect, one is quite direct. HB1067 is a complete ban on any development above 6,000ft on Mauna Kea. Blunt and simple.

The Thirty Meter Telescope
An artist concept of TMT at night, with the laser guide star system illuminated.

Introduced by representative Amy A. Perruso  representing central Oahu district 46, Launani Valley and Wahiawa . The bill has a long introduction, but a very simple change to the state statutes…

§304A-    Mauna Kea conservation district lands; development; prohibition.  Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, no new construction or development on conservation lands on the Mauna Kea summit located at six thousand feet above sea level and higher shall take place after December 31, 2019.

HB1067 from the 2019 Hawaii Legislature
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Justice Wilson’s Dissent

In the wake of the supreme court decision on the TMT conservation district use permit last month, many like myself have been reading the opinions of the court. I was pleased to see that the justices were very clear in their views, there is very little room for any future legal steps in this case. This decision sets clear precedents for future land use cases that will certainly occur over the same issues.

Aliʻiōlani Hale
Aliʻiōlani Hale housing the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court. CC Image by D. Logan/Wikimedia Commons
The majority opinion is a systematic refutation of each argument made by telescope opponents. This is particularly true in the numerous trivial matters that opponents attempted to inflate into major issues. Issues like Judge Amanoʻs ʻImiloa membership, or the brevity of some responses to the absolute snowstorm of submissions in the contested case.

In addition to the majority opinion you may read the quite interesting concurring opinion by Justice Pollack. He agrees with the majority on the final result, but promotes using existing frameworks to judge land use cases such as this. It is also interesting the dissenting Justice Wilson joins in this concurring opinion, at least for the first three parts.

The dissent written by Associate Justice Michael Wilson was published almost two weeks later than the majority opinion. The reason for this delay is not given, it is possibly a result of Justice Wilson analyzing the majority opinion and responding to it in his dissent.

As is often the case with decisions like this, it is more interesting to read the dissent than the majority opinion. Any flaws or weaknesses in the case can be examined and can be more informative. This case is an exception to that, the dissent is interesting, if for somewhat different reasons.

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TMT Permit Upheld by State Supreme Court

Mid-morning the awaited news found me… The Hawaii State Supreme Court has upheld the conservation district use permit for the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea.

The Thirty Meter Telescope site as seen from the top of Keck 2 dome
The Thirty Meter Telescope site as seen from the top of Keck 2 dome
We had been waiting for this decision for some time. Based on the usual length of time the court takes to decide a case the decision should have appeared well over a month ago.

To no one’s surprise, the court took a little longer with this particular case. A case fraught with many questions that are hotly debated in this state.

The news quickly fueled a firestorm of mainstream media articles across the country and social media postings. The pro-telescope communities I participate in were celebrating. Opponents were decrying the decision with responses that range from disbelief to inflammatory.

Mid-afternoon found me atop the Keck 2 dome to check on some instrumentation. From there I had a perfect vantage point to look down upon the TMT site on the north plateau. I stopped to consider what those few acres of rock below had cost so far in terms of time and passion.

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Observing Sunset from the Summit of Mauna Kea

During discussions concerning a previous posting another aspect of the video of Ms. Pisciotta became the subject of the conversation. For one familiar with the summit and the position of the features, the claims seem unlikely, something worth a closer look.

Kealoha Pisciotta testifying on religious practice on the summit of Mauna Kea during a BLNR public meeting, video from Nā Leo TV
If you listen to the clip Ms. Pisciotta makes a very emphatic claim… That the construction of TMT will block the view of the Sun as it makes its annual pattern of sunsets along the horizon.

While I am singling out Ms. Pisciotta a bit here, she is a key figure in the opposition. She is a leader of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, the most active opposition group and a primary participant in every significant legal case on the issue for the last several decades.

How can we examine this claim? From winter solstice, to equinox, to summer solstice, the position of sunrise and sunset changes significantly. This cycle has been tracked by shamans and priests for millennia, using the pattern to set the time of planting or religious ceremonies.

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HB1565 Relating to Science and Technology Research

Another proposed bill that has been carried over from the 2017 legislative session is HB1565. The purpose of this bill is to create a conservation district sub-zone category specifically geared to supporting research and technology facilities. The astronomy precinct atop Mauna Kea is identified as such a sub-zone along with seven other sites such as NELHA and the facilities atop Haleakalā.

Sunset Crowd
A crowd of mountain visitors watch sunset around UKIRT

The legislature further finds that research activity brings in millions of dollars that help diversify and stabilize the State’s economy that is heavily dependent on tourism, which is a cyclical industry. A study of research expenditures in the University of Hawaii system alone, not including private or non-university funded federal projects, showed that research activity had an economic impact on business sales of $760,000,000, state taxes of $45,000,000, employee earnings of $275,000,000, and the generation of about seven thousand jobs. – Excerpt from HB1565 proposed legislation for the 2018 Hawaii legislature

The bill would designate specific lands to be used for science and technology facilities. More interestingly the bill specifies a set of rules by which these lands are to be administered and subleases are to be negotiated.

The bill simplifies and streamlines the land use decision process. In the case of opposition to development within a science and technology sub-zone the method of dispute is designated as mediation rather than a contested case hearing.

This bill is certain to be a lightning rod for opponents of astronomy on Mauna Kea and Hakeakula. The opposition will be vehement to say the least. Indeed, it will be interesting to read the opposition commentary.

Ahu
An ancient ahu (shrine) atop Mauna Kea with the summit in the background
There is much to consider in this bill… Creating a sub-zone specifically for research facilities is probably a good thing. This recognizes a very specific land use that should have equally specific rules governing the use.

But there remains a question… Does the process specified in this particular bill to manage this new type of sub-zone excessively curtail public participation in the land management process? Where is the balance between sensible development and protection of the environment?

We currently have a situation in which a small and vocal minority can completely derail the process, that even reasonable development is blocked. A situation where only extraordinarily well funded organizations can accomplish anything. Then only with a stunning amount of wasted resources and effort along the way.