Tuesday, November 2, 2004

State OKs 6 small

The Land Board's action requires
UH to enforce environmental rules
atop Mauna Kea

The state has approved a permit for six new "outrigger" telescopes on Mauna Kea, which would bring the total to 19 working telescopes on the summit.

But the Board of Land and Natural Resources said the telescopes will be allowed only if the University of Hawaii beefs up enforcement of regulations on the mountain.

Two Hawaiian cultural groups, two individuals and the Sierra Club opposed the outriggers during trial-like contested-case hearings last year. A lawsuit against the project now seems likely, Mauna Kea Anaina Hou and the Sierra Club said in a joint statement.

A Mauna Kea plan from the 1980s put a limit of 13 telescopes on the mountain.

"We hold that they have already reached their limit," said opponent Kealoha Pisciotta, of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou. Opponents also objected to trash and other pollution on the mountain.

The relatively small outrigger telescopes get their name from their position around the big Keck telescopes, the way a wooden outrigger is placed next to a canoe.

Light from the outriggers would be combined with light from the main telescopes to create the effect of a single huge telescope.

The outriggers would be built by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, although UH's Institute for Astronomy is the applicant to the Land Board.

A draft environmental impact statement by NASA indicates that the effect of the outriggers will be small, but the cumulative impact of 30 years of telescopes on Mauna Kea is "substantial, adverse and significant."

In 2000 an Office of Mauna Kea Management was created under the control of UH's Hilo campus, but the head of the office, Bill Stormont, testified during the Land Board hearings that his agency has no power to police rules that apply to the summit.

The Land Board agreed, saying in its 91-page decision, "We do not believe the cumulative impacts can be mitigated with the present management structure."

In unusually strong language, the Land Board is "requiring" the university to continue the management office and "tasking" it to take on added responsibility. But the board dropped a proposal to give the management office the power to fine observatories that violate regulations.

"We believe that an empowered (management office) will ensure that the promotion of astronomy interests will never again be at the expense of our natural and cultural resources," the board's decision says.

That was not strong enough for opponents.

Allowing the project to go forward despite cumulative adverse impacts is a violation of law, Pisciotta said.

No decision should have been made while a final version of the federal environmental study is pending, the two groups said.

Following last year's hearings, the Land Board voted for the outriggers Friday in a closed-door meeting that excluded even the parties to the case. The state Sunshine Law does not apply to contested-case hearings.



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