Monday, March 1, 1999

plans alarm
Sierra Club

It protests the Smithsonian's
proposals for expansion

By Rod Thompson


HILO -- The Sierra Club is objecting to preliminary proposals to allow new telescopes on Mauna Kea, but astronomy officials say the club's claims are exaggerated and inaccurate.

In particular, the club says in a statement that the Smithsonian Institution is considering dozens more antennae at its radio observatory on the mountain.

Smithsonian operations director Anthony Schinckel responded that the eight-antenna observatory isn't even constructed yet, so officials can't know how they would want to expand it later.

As an aid to Mauna Kea planners, Smithsonian has said it might want eight more antennae. But in fact, the institution has "absolutely no idea" how many antennae it will want, Schinckel said.

Neither the Big Island nor Honolulu chapters of the Sierra Club were immediately available to explain the club's statement.

The club said the expansion proposals were made in written "drafts" presented to the Mauna Kea Advisory Committee of the University of Hawaii, which is preparing plans for the next 20 years.

Acting UH Institute for Astronomy head Robert McClaren said the proposals were preliminary and in audiovisual form, not in writing.

McClaren and Sierra Club member Nelson Ho are members of the 24-person advisory committee.

The Sierra Club statement also criticized plans made public by the giant Keck observatory in 1997 to build four small "outrigger" telescopes alongside its two large telescopes.

It criticized a proposal that some observatories at the summit might be "upgraded" by replacing their medium-sized telescopes with large ones or by tearing down existing observatories and building entirely new ones.

The club called for a moratorium on new telescopes or upgrades until an environmental protection plan is finished.

The club also wants $1.2 million in "user fees" from each telescope.

Telescopes now use summit sites free in exchange for viewing time provided to UH astronomers.

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