“Too many telescopes”
The cumulative impacts of observatory development on the mountain have been recognized as being “substantial, significant, and adverse” (TMT Environmental Impact Statement).
Response: The University of Hawai‘i has made a legally-binding commitment that the TMT site will be the last new area to be developed for observatories and has committed to the removal of 5 current observatories by the end of 2033 as a condition of the TMT permit. A decommissioning sub-plan, under the Maunakea Comprehensive Management Plan, guides the removal of observatories and site restoration.
- Three of the existing 13 telescopes to be permanently removed as soon as reasonably possible, but no later than the time TMT is complete.
- Caltech Submillimeter Observatory began decommissioning process in 2017. A public scoping period ended in 2018. Hoku Kea decommissioning also underway. UKIRT is identified for removal.
- Two more by the current end of UH’s lease in 2033. None of these sites will be redeveloped.
If TMT is built, there will be no more than nine telescopes beyond 2033. This is a commitment.
“Too many visitors”
Maunakea remains a popular attraction for tourists and residents, prompting concerns about visitor impacts to the mountain. According to Maunakea Support Services, 35,511 vehicles ascended the mountain in 2016, with observatory crews and permitted tours accounting for about 37 percent of vehicle traffic that year. The rest is attributed to the general public including visitors.
Response: UH is developing administrative rules to address access issues. Other steps to address access include:
Shortly after its founding in fall 2000, the Office of Maunakea Management created a ranger program to provide daily oversight of activities on UH managed lands. It is the goal of the administration to expand the ranger program.
- As part of the Maunakea Comprehensive Management Plan, this sub-plan sets principles and policies to guide public and commercial activities.
- To be implemented through administrative rules.
The Legislative Auditor issued a critical audit in 1998 of UH’s management.
- Overseen by a board of community members nominated by the UH-Hilo chancellor and approved by the UH Board of Regents.
- Advised by a Native Hawaiian cultural council, known as Kahu Kū Mauna.
- Completed Comprehensive Management Plan in 2009. The CMP incorporates four sub-plans: Cultural Resources, Natural Resources, Public Access, and Decommissioning.
Observatories, while providing significant economic benefits, have paid $1 a year for their subleases under UH, prompting concern they aren’t paying their share for use of public lands.
Response: TMT is the only sublease entered into after the Legislative Audit and 2000 Master Plan, and therefore the first telescope to pay substantial lease rent. Substantial lease payments will be included in any new and renegotiated sub-lease agreements.
- Sub-lease validated in 2018 following legal challenges.
- Payments start at $300,000 annually and will reach $1.08 million annually after 10 years.
- Payments benefit Office of Maunakea Management for stewardship and management, and Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
Maunakea is recognized for its wahi pana and other highly valued cultural and natural resources. It is also recognized as a premier site for astronomy. The Legislative Auditor in 1998 faulted UH for not doing enough to protect the cultural and natural resources when building observatories.
Response: Restrictions were imposed by the UH management plans and TMT Conservation District Use Permit:
- UH management plans
- Environmental, cultural and architectural controls developed.
- Controls address development on pu‘us.
- TMT Conservation District Use Permit
- Site designated at an area below the summit and away from historical and cultural sites, including Kukahau‘ula and Lake Waiau. No burials at the site.
- All waste from the observatory will be stored and removed.
- No explosives to be used during construction.
The primary beneficiaries of astronomy have narrowly been the UH and scientists.
Response: To broaden the benefits of astronomy to the community, the observatories and ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center have supported several programs, including the following:
- Several million dollars spent on education and workforce development including Journey Through the Universe, Akamai internships, AstroDays, Kama’aina Observatory Experience, and Maunakea Scholars program, which gives Hawai‘i high school students access to the telescopes for observations and research. Maunakea Scholars program remains the only program of its kind in the world.
‘Imiloa Astronomy Center
- A Hua He Inoa: Native Hawaiian students work with astronomers and Hawaiian language experts to give Hawaiian names to astronomical discoveries. Names have been submitted and accepted by the International Astronomical Union.
Thirty Meter Telescope
- In 2014, TMT International Observatory launched the THINK Fund, which provides $1 million a year to STEM education on Hawai‘i Island. Annual payments adjusted for inflation will continue for the life of the observatory.