UH, DLNR should create broad plan for Mauna Kea
A state judge has revoked a permit for as many as six additional telescopes at the summit.
A JUDGE'S rejection of a state permit
for placement of as many as six new telescopes atop Mauna Kea has little immediate effect; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration already had scrapped the proposal because of a tight budget. Future additions to Mauna Kea might be in jeopardy unless the state completes extensive management plans for the mountaintop.
Circuit Judge Glenn Hara of the Big Island ruled last week that NASA could not put four to six small telescopes, called outriggers, on Mauna Kea because no "comprehensive management plan" for the summit had been completed. The plan submitted to the state Board of Land and Natural Resources had been limited to the immediate area of the new telescopes, not the entire summit.
The outrigger project would involve the twin Keck telescopes combining light with the smaller telescopes to increase resolution in monitoring planets orbiting more than 200 stars closest to the sun. It would require as much as $50 million to complete, and NASA withdrew funding in February.
The University of Hawaii holds the lease to the Mauna Kea Science Reserve and was granted the permit for the outrigger project in 2003. The Sierra Club, two native Hawaiian organizations and a Hawaiian individual appealed the land board's decision.
The university has been criticized in the past for its management of the Mauna Kea reserve. In response, the UH Board of Regents adopted a master plan for its management six years ago, assigning scientific matters to the Institute for Astronomy and environmental and cultural issues to three new arms of the university.
State Auditor Marion Higa reported last December that while the university and Department of Land and Natural Resources had "made some positive changes to protect Mauna Kea and the science reserve, much remains to be done."
Among Higa's recommendations was that UH "develop, implement and monitor a comprehensive management plan for natural, cultural and historic resources of the summit and (midlevel) Hale Pohaku area."
Judge Hara pointed out that DLNR has the responsibility for managing Mauna Kea. Higa suggested that the department could accomplish that task by increasing communication among the UH departments involved. Land board Chairman Peter Young told the Star-Bulletin's Rod Thompson that his department would work with the Institute for Astronomy to create a management plan.
Until such a plan is implemented, further additions to Mauna Kea might be shelved, which is a shame. The majestic summit is known worldwide for astronomical research, but it also is rich in rare plant and animal life and valued by Hawaiians for its spiritual and cultural resources. The plan recommended by Higa and ordered by Hara should recognize and protect those assets.
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