Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced his support for building the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea on Tuesday, saying the project has the right to proceed.
“I do not doubt that they did more than any previous telescope project to be a good neighbor,” he said during a press conference at the State Capitol.
Protests against the planned observatory on Mauna Kea, which is considered a sacred mountain by many Native Hawaiians, forced construction to come to a standstill last month after dozens of people were arrested blocking construction vehicles.
Gov. David Ige speaks at a press conference about the TMT on Mauna Kea.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The governor also announced a list of 10 requests for the University of Hawaii that are intended to improve the management of the mountain, such as creating a new Mauna Kea Cultural Council to advise the state. Ige acknowledged that in many ways the state has failed to do a good job as steward of the land.
Still, Kealoha Pisciotta, who has spent a better part of the last two decades fighting development on Mauna Kea, said she was disappointed by the governor’s support for the TMT.
“The state of Hawaii is defending astronomers from California’s right to build something here on the land that belongs to Native Hawaiians and the public,” she said. “He’s arresting our people, Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian alike, but he’s going to defend the California astronomers’ right to build something here.”
She called his list of requests for the university “hollow” and said they included things that the university was already planning on doing, such as decommissioning telescopes.
She said she doesn’t plan to apply to serve on the governor’s proposed Mauna Kea Cultural Council.
“Hawaiians should not be in an advisory position, they should be in a voting position because it’s their land,” Pisciotta said.
“The people have already spoken that we are willing to take arrests if need be.”
Ige said the University of Hawaii needs to do a better job of taking care of the mountain. He said the pursuit of science on the mountain has gotten in the way of culture, and the state must restore the balance.
“From my own personal experience on the mountain, with all the noise and crowding, I could not feel the same feeling that I felt on the summit 20 years ago,” Ige said of his recent visit to Mauna Kea.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
He announced that he is asking the University of Hawaii to enter a legally binding agreement to ensure that this is the last area on Mauna Kea where a telescope could be built, as well as decommission at least one-fourth of the telescopes on the mountain by the time the TMT is complete.
Ige also wants UH to return over 10,000 acres to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources that aren’t being used for the observatories, and to substantially reduce its lease extension request.
He said the university should re-start the environmental impact assessment for its application for a lease extension and conduct a full cultural impact analysis. The governor also wants the TMT to increase its educational support for Native Hawaiian students.
University of Hawaii President David Lassner said during a subsequent press conference Tuesday that he believes the governor’s requests are generally reasonable and the university is not opposed to returning land to the DLNR or decommissioning telescopes.
“We agree that the university can and must do better and we apologize for where our efforts have fallen short,” Lassner said, acknowledging that the university could do more regarding cultural stewardship and decommissioning telescopes.
University of Hawaii President David Lassner speaks at a press conference about Mauna Kea.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Still, when a reporter asked if Lassner agreed with Ige that science has taken precedence over culture on the mountain, the president didn’t respond directly.
“I believe that there is more we can do to enhance our cultural stewardship of the mountain,” he said.
He said the university will issue a more comprehensive statement later this week that will describe what specific actions the university will take.
Henry Yang, chair of the TMT International Observatory Board, said in a statement that the organization is grateful for Ige’s support and will work with his proposed framework.
“We know we have a lot of work ahead of us,” he said. “We appreciate that there are still people who are opposed to the project, and we will continue to respectfully listen and work with them to seek solutions. We also want to acknowledge and thank our many supporters on the Big Island and beyond.”
A spokeswoman for the TMT said she didn’t know when construction will proceed.