My involvement with Mauna Kea has been an extended journey, from small-kid time seeing Hilo’s majestic backdrop everyday to later in my life when I had the honor of serving for 12 years on the Mauna Kea Management Board, the last six as its chair. Although my tenure with the board concluded, I remain passionate about management and stewardship of the mountain and the continued success of astronomy.
Astronomy development emerged from Hilo community
Fifty years ago, a couple of scientists, a determined Hilo chamber of commerce executive and a governor transformed Hawaii.
Hilo’s economy was ravaged by the 1960 tsunami, and Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce executive Mitsuo Akiyama heard his friend, Howard Ellis, then chief of the weather observatory on Mauna Loa, touting the clear skies and potential for astronomical observation. Akiyama grabbed hold of that dream and was relentless in his quest to rebuild Hilo’s economy.
He wrote letter after letter to universities across the U.S. and Japan pitching Mauna Kea as a potential observatory site.
Only one man from one university responded — Gerald Kuiper with the University of Arizona. But that’s all Mr. Akiyama needed to rally county and state support and convince Gov. John A. Burns to build the first gravel road to the summit of Mauna Kea.
Today, 50 years later, we celebrate Hawaii’s astronomy sector with 13 observatories from 11 countries and more than a billion dollars in infrastructure.
Stewardship criticisms 10 years out of date
The adoption of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan by the UH Board of Regents in the year 2000 marked a critical milestone in the management of Mauna Kea. This master plan established management guidelines for the next 20 years.
The master plan focused on respect for Hawaiian cultural beliefs, protection of environmentally sensitive habitats, recreational uses and astronomy research. It placed management of the summit area with a newly formed Office of Mauna Kea Management (OMKM).
Following a lengthy public process, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan, administered by OMKM, in 2009. Four subsequent sub-plans were approved: Cultural Resource Management Plan, Natural Resource Management Plan, Public Access Plan and a Decommissioning Plan.
OMKM successfully accepted its kuleana to steward Mauna Kea and its related cultural and natural resources. One excellent example of this stewardship is the OMKM Ranger Program that provides health and safety outreach for all Mauna Kea users. Any lingering criticisms of summit management are woefully outdated.
TMT — A new paradigm
Seven years ago, the Thirty Meter Telescope expressed interest in locating the next generation observatory on Mauna Kea. The worldwide significance of this decision cannot be overstated. Five international partners from universities and governments in Canada, China, India, Japan and the United States have now joined together to collaborate on the TMT project.
TMT announced early it would set a new paradigm in astronomy development on Mauna Kea. I firmly believe TMT, in its quest to discover new science, has carefully listened to community needs and concerns.
The community said:
• If you build TMT, build the best telescope in the world.
• Don’t build on the summit. TMT will be located below the summit.
• Decommission out-of-date observatories. Caltech (a partner in TMT) announced it would decommission and remove the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory in 2016.
• Pay more than a dollar a year in lease rent. TMT made the promise to pay a substantial lease rent for the privilege of locating on Mauna Kea.
• Education is an important benefit. TMT will invest $1 million a year in education through scholarships and grants throughout the lifetime of the lease.
• Hire local for high-paying, high-tech jobs. TMT is partnering with UH-Hilo and Hawaii Community College, readying local residents with a Workforce Pipeline Program.
TMT completed all requirements of the state’s outlined process, including preparation and acceptance of the Environmental Impact Statement and being granted the Conservation District Use Permit.
There is no merit to the implication by six project opponents that any part of this extensive process was abbreviated.
Hawaii Island is poised to advance humankind’s understanding of our universe. The center for astronomy is headquartered in Hilo and Waimea. We cannot allow a $1.3 billion project to relocate to Chile. Simply put, building the TMT project on foreign soil is not in our national interest.
Who among us would not want Hawaii’s keiki to reach for the stars?
Barry K. Taniguchi is president and CEO of KTA Super Stores.