The University of Hawaii appeared ready on Monday to move quickly in implementing virtually all of the changes called for last week by Gov. David Ige in management of its activities on Mauna Kea, where Native Hawaiian protestors have sought for weeks to block further work on the Thirty Meter Telescope project.
University leaders apologized in a statement released Monday morning for not fully meeting their obligations to the mountain or the expectations of the community. At an afternoon press briefing, UH President David Lassner and UH Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney said managing all the moving parts in the governor’s proposal will be challenging, as “each has a life of its own.” But they also made clear they appreciate the urgency behind the governor’s words.
“I take (the governor’s) message to mean, ‘Stop talking, start doing,'” said Straney, who has primary oversight for the university presence on Mauna Kea, noting that parts of the reforms requested by Ige have been under consideration for years.
UH President David Lassner, left, and UH Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney field questions about Mauna Kea during a press conference at Bachman Hall on Monday.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The university pledged to restart its environmental impact statement process for the lease renewal and modify its extension request to be “substantially” less than 65 years. Lassner said talks with the Department of Land and Natural Resources will begin this week on relinquishing control of land the university is not using for astronomy. The current lease covers more than 11,200 acres, only 525 of which are devoted to the astronomy precinct at the summit, with additional acreage supporting a visitor center and roadway.
While no new sites will be developed on Mauna Kea after the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope, the university does not promise that no new telescopes will be built. The pledge for TMT to be the last new astronomy site is not new — the university had included a commitment in its 2000 decommissioning plan that any new telescopes on the mountain would be built on existing sites. However, UH now says that it will work with DLNR to make that promise legally binding.
University officials expect to start meetings as early as next week to begin working on a decommissioning schedule for other telescopes, with the goal of reducing the number of observatories atop the mountain by 25 percent by the time the TMT is fully operational.
The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory announced last week that it will begin decommissioning in September, a year earlier than expected. The telescope will be removed from the mountain by 2018.
Each decommission is expected to cost between $2 million and $5 million and will be the financial and complex logistical responsibility of each corresponding telescope group. “The big challenge in decommissioning is you have to deconstruct something that was typically two to three years in the making,” said Straney.
The university wasn’t ready on Monday to disclose which telescopes are likely to come down next. Lassner and Straney noted that the Caltech announcement was held until employees working on that telescope could be informed of the new timetable. Similar processes will need to take place on other telescopes before a schedule of subsequent decommissions is made public.
The university also plans to talk with the observatories that sublease land on Mauna Kea for $1 a year about renegotiating payments in the new master lease renewal, and create new science scholarships for Native Hawaiian students.
Lassner revealed that university leaders have been in several meetings with members of the Mauna Kea Protectors and other groups protesting the TMT project, and described those conversations as “very respectful and positive.” “We have a shared interest in protecting Mauna Kea,” said Lassner.
The university is expected to release a more detailed plan for stewardship changes in July.
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