Telescope enterprise
raises land concerns

Critics say Big Island environmental
needs are being ignored

HILO >> Life in the universe is important, but life on the Big Island is a more immediate concern, environmentalist Nelson Ho suggested to a NASA official last night.

The occasion was a meeting held by Carl Pilcher, of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, regarding up to six relatively small "outrigger" telescopes proposed by NASA for construction around the two giant Keck telescopes at the top of Mauna Kea.

NASA plans to write a detailed environmental impact statement on the proposed project. It held the meeting to get public views on the study.

NASA has said the outriggers' studies would help answer the questions, Where do we come from? and Are we alone?

Ho answered, "While it is important to know the origins of life in the universe, the science of biology has (as) a top priority the understanding and preservation of biodiversity here on planet Earth."

Ho said the NASA impact statement should study the impact of new and previous telescope construction on the wekiu bug, a rare insect found only at the top of Mauna Kea.

Analysis of "cumulative impact" is important because that is what U.S. District Judge Susan Mollway found was lacking in an earlier, relatively short environmental analysis of the outrigger project when she ruled last summer that the project needed further study.

The cumulative effect of construction is also relevant because the area around the Keck telescopes was already bulldozed when they were built. The outriggers, in domes 35 feet high compared with the Kecks' 111-foot domes, will be built on unpaved areas now used for parking.

Another critic was former Mauna Kea guide Tom Peek, who accused astronomers of ignoring federal environmental laws and damaging cultural sites for 30 years.

"It's too late to expect a change of heart (from the public) about your project just because you've finally agreed to follow U.S. law," he told them.

Telescope supporters were sparse among the roughly 50 attendees last night.

Paula Helfrich, of the Hawaii Island Economic Development Board, repeated her group's support for the outriggers but also repeated the group's position that a detailed environmental impact statement is needed.

The meetings are an early step in the study process, with more hearings to come after the study is drafted. Other meetings are scheduled for tonight at the Waimea YMCA, Monday at the Japanese Cultural Center in Honolulu and Tuesday at Waianae District Park. Doors open at 5:15 p.m. for all locations, and meetings start at 6:30 p.m.


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