TMT gains momentum: Mauna Kea Management Board votes in favor of proposed sublease


The Thirty Meter Telescope project gained momentum Wednesday following a Mauna Kea Management Board vote in favor of the project’s proposed sublease Wednesday morning.

The board will recommend the University of Hawaii Board of Regents approve the sublease for construction of one of the world’s largest telescopes atop Mauna Kea at its Feb. 20 meeting at UH-Manoa.

The sublease falls under the university’s current master lease that allows telescopes atop Mauna Kea through 2033 and 2041.

If the BOR votes in favor of the sublease, it will head to the Board of Land and Natural Resources for final approval.

The board went through the conditions of the legal document prior to taking a vote.

Stephanie Nagata, director of the Office of Mauna Kea Management, said the sublease between TMT and UH addresses three key points — rent, decommissioning and what happens if a new master lease is approved by BLNR.

The sublease states TMT, under the name TMT International Observatory, will pay an annual rent to the Mauna Kea board. The rent is based on construction milestones for the project.

For the first three years, TMT will pay $300,000 followed by $400,000 for the fourth and fifth years together, $600,000 when the structure is built, $700,000 when the instruments and mirrors are placed, and $900,000 in the 10th year of construction. After that, TMT will pay $1 million a year while the telescope is in operation.

Payments begin pending BLNR’s approval of the sublease.

The money will go toward the board to enhance the continuation of its current services, and 20 percent of the funds will go toward the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Nagata also discussed language in the sublease requiring TMT to set funds aside for a decommissioning plan, with the plan being transparent and accessible to UH officials.

In terms of how the extension of the university’s current master lease will effect the sublease, Nagata said the document has a clause that will require TMT to meet criteria set by a new master lease.

UH officials are currently asking the state to extend the master lease through 2078, but that decision can’t be made until the university completes an Environmental Impact Statement.

Prior to the unanimous vote, one board member expressed concern about the approval process.

“It seems a little odd to me to approve a sublease while the master lease has been reviewed and has not yet been approved,” Hannah Kiahalani Springer said.

Public testimony was also heard at the meeting.

Roberta Chu, senior vice president and island manager at Hawaii Island Commercial Banking Center with the Bank of Hawaii; Jacqui Hoover, executive director of Hawaii Island Economic Development Board; and Hawaii County resident John McBride all spoke in favor of TMT.

When the BOR votes on the proposed sublease Feb. 20, TMT Corp. legal counsel will be at the 3rd Circuit Court in Hilo to speak on behalf of the case involving six petitioners opposing the state’s approval process for issuing a permit for the project.

Although Wednesday’s announcement was a step forward for TMT, Kealoha Pisciotta, one of the six petitioners involved in the case, said a ruling by Judge Greg Nakamura in their favor could effect future developments.

“It will definitely delay the process for sure,” she said.

But TMT spokeswoman Sandra Dawson said she took the MKMB’s approval as “a good sign.”

“It’s a very good sign that the Mauna Kea Management Board approves, wholeheartedly, the terms of the sublease and the community support for the meeting itself,” Dawson said.

The MKMB also discussed the installation of a photovoltaic system at the Hale Pohaku Mid-Level Astronomy Facilities, its volunteer efforts, and the decision to change the spelling of Mauna Kea to one word instead of two.

Email Megan Moseley at mmoseley@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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