Big Isle telescope projects at risk
A judge reverses a state permit for up to six new scopes on Mauna Kea
HILO » A court ruling against "outrigger" telescopes on Mauna Kea will affect future astronomy projects, said Rolf-Peter Kudritzki, of the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy.
But numerous delays had already led the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in June to cancel the $50 million project with up to six relatively small telescopes around the two giant Keck telescopes.
Last week, Circuit Judge Glen Hara reversed a state permit that would have allowed the outriggers in domes 35 feet high next to the 111-foot-high Keck domes on Mauna Kea, like outriggers around a canoe.
The delays were caused by legal challenges from environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Hawaiian cultural groups like Mauna Kea Anaina Hou. They felt that astronomers demonstrated insensitivity to Mauna Kea in the 1980s and 1990s.
The UH Board of Regents tried to overcome that when it approved the new Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan in 2000.
Science was left in the hands of the Institute for Astronomy, but environmental, land management and cultural issue were placed under the control of new agencies, Kudritzki said. For the first time, those agencies were based in Hilo instead of Honolulu.
Nonscience matters were given to the Office of Mauna Kea Management, the Mauna Kea Management Board and the all-Hawaiian Kahu Ku Mauna Council.
Last week, Hara said in effect that those efforts were not enough. Those bodies come under the university, but the Department of Land and Natural Resources has the responsibility for Mauna Kea management, Hara said.
An outrigger management plan was prepared for the Board of Land and Natural Resources, but the plan was not "comprehensive," as required by law, Hara said. Separate plans for individual observatories could clash unless they are part of a "comprehensive" whole, he said.
Land Board Chairman Peter Young said his department will work with the Institute for Astronomy to create the required plan.
Without the new plan, two projects would be in jeopardy, Kudritzki said. The PanSTARRS project, with four small telescopes hunting for "killer asteroids," and the Thirty Meter Telescope, with an enormous 100-foot-wide mirror, are being planned, he said.