By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The state Board of Land and Natural Resources will hear testimony Tuesday at 11 a.m. concerning the long-debated, $1.3 billion Thirty Meter Telescope project planned for the summit of Mauna Kea.
Both opponents and proponents of the project will gather outside the Hawaii County Building in Hilo before the hearing, which will feature final oral arguments from the parties on the TMT construction permit.
Petitioners include Deborah Ward, KAHEA, Paul Neves, Clarence Kukauakahi Ching, Mauna Kea Anaina House and the family of E. Kalani Flores and B. Pua Case.
The hearing comes after a contested case hearing over a conservation district use permit. Hearing officer Paul Aoki concluded the case hearing more than a year ago. He then released his 126-page decision in November, recommending approval for what is planned to be one of the world’s most powerful optical/infrared telescopes following a decade-long construction project.
Tuesday is an opportunity for supporters and opponents from various vantage points in the debate to have the land board hear their oral arguments in response to Aoki’s report, albeit for no more than 30 minutes per side, according to an order filed by the board. The general public will not have a chance to testify.
Last week, the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce, which has long stood in support of the TMT plans, sent out an email to its members, requesting that they attend Tuesday’s meeting.
“This is a really important milestone for TMT,” reads the email from chamber spokesman Miles Yoshioka. “HICC members have been supportive of TMT at every step and we need everyone’s kokua to take TMT over the finish line. Please help us get the word out to come and support the last TMT public meeting. This community has been instrumental in getting this project to where it is today.”
Chamber President Vaughn Cook said Friday that the chamber’s support for TMT is about much more than business interests that will benefit from the economic impact of the project.
“Sure, it’s a benefit to the community from a business point of view, but we also support a vision of this benefiting not only us but the rest of the world,” he said. “The people in the scientific community agree that Mauna Kea is really the best place in the world for astronomy. … We’re excited about the contributions that can be made to our community, to education, and to mankind’s understanding of the universe.”
Such advances will come at too high a cost, however, according to many of those who oppose the project. Conservationists, Hawaiian cultural practitioners and others say that the impacts of such a massive undertaking will do irreparable harm to one of the most unique and cherished landscapes on Earth.
“Please support us as we seek to protect Mauna Kea from further industrialization,” reads a blog posting by Lauren Muneoka of the KAHEA Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance.
“Mauna Kea is overbuilt. The TMT Environmental Impact Statement says that industrial telescope structures on Mauna Kea have had a ‘signficant, substantial, and adverse impact’ on the natural and cultural resources of this conservation district. With a construction footprint of 8 acres and building height of 18 stories, the TMT would contribute to the over-industrialization of the fragile conservation area of this sacred mountain.”
Opponents of the project intend to gather at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday outside the Hilo County Building before the 11 a.m. hearing, which will take place in room 1401. Supporters are also planning to gather for a sign waving along Aupuni Street before the meeting at 9 a.m.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.