Sunday, February 20, 2005

Little extra impact
seen from adding

NASA's report admits
Mauna Kea already
has been damaged

Past, present and "reasonably foreseeable" future astronomical activities at the summit of Mauna Kea have had a substantial and adverse cumulative impact on the mountain's cultural resources, according to an environmental impact statement.

But the addition of six planned "outrigger" telescopes to the existing observatories on the Big Island mountain would have a small incremental impact, according to the final EIS prepared by NASA. The space agency announced completion of the environmental statement in a legal advertisement Friday.

The six telescopes would be built around the existing larger Keck I and II telescopes atop the 13,769-foot summit.

The project has been delayed by challenges from Native Hawaiians and environmentalists. Opponents of the project filed suit in Circuit Court in Hilo in December, seeking to reverse the state Board of Land and Natural Resources' approval last Oct. 29.

NASA said it made an effort to consult with Native Hawaiian religious practitioners regarding the impact of the construction.

No archaeological sites have been identified in the construction area, but a Burial Treatment Plan has been prepared on the assumption that human remains could be found during construction, the impact statement said.

It also said a mitigation plan has been developed to reduce the impact on the wekiu bug, a candidate for listing as an endangered species. The proposed project would displace a small amount of previously disturbed wekiu bug habitat, it said.

When the mitigation plan and an accompanying monitoring plan are implemented, the anticipated adverse impacts to biological resources would be small, the EIS said.

The outrigger project would be consistent with uses permitted in the astronomy precinct of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve and with the 2000 Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan, and although some transportation, noise and visual impacts would occur, the project would not result in a long-term conflict with or have a substantial impact on existing activities, the statement said.

Although the outrigger telescopes would be visible from locations such as Waimea and Honoka'a, they would not be visible from Hilo, it said. And where visible, the impact would be small compared to the much larger Keck telescope domes.

NASA said it evaluated 10 other potential sites. One of those -- a site in the Canary Islands -- is considered a reasonable alternative to Mauna Kea.

The Canary Islands site has no groups that consider it to be sacred or of religious importance, and the project would have no impact on traditional cultural practices, NASA said.

NASA also said that if it does not go ahead with the outrigger construction on Mauna Kea, it would not provide $2 million for preservation and protection of historic and cultural resources on Mauna Kea and educational needs of Hawaiians. It also said a wekiu bug ecology study would not be funded.

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