Thirty Meter Telescope opponents also against teaching telescope

Astronomy technicians describe complicated process to get access to Mauna Kea's summit.
Astronomy technicians describe complicated process to get access to Mauna Kea's summit.(Hawaii News Now)
Updated: Oct. 27, 2020 at 4:34 AM HST
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HILO, Hawaii (AP) — Some leaders of the Thirty Meter Telescope opposition movement expressed disapproval of the proposed relocation of the University of Hawaii’s teaching telescope to a site on Mauna Kea.

A public comment period for the smaller telescope on Hawaii island was expected to end Monday, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.

The university in September began hosting a website inviting comments after proposing to install the teaching telescope at Halepohaku, a mid-level facility located on the mountain at 9,200 feet (2,804 meters) elevation.

The 28-inch (71-centimeter) telescope is far smaller than the stalled Thirty Meter Telescope project, which opponents said would desecrate land considered sacred by Native Hawaiians.

“It seems very irresponsible,” said Andre Perez, one of the leaders of the protest held at the Mauna Kea Access Road last year.

Protesters blocked the 6.27-mile (10-kilometer) road to the Mauna Kea summit in a demonstration against the project from July through December 2019.

“The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is already suing the university for mismanagement (of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve),” Perez said, “and they want to site a new telescope?”

Perez and fellow protest leader Noe Noe Wong-Wilson said Halepohaku and the upper slopes of Mauna Kea are ecologically sensitive areas. Installing a telescope and bringing more traffic to the mountain will threaten local ecosystems, they said.

The pair noted the university is entertaining the possibility of placing another telescope on the mountain during a delay in the decommissioning process of three observatories on the summit, which was part of the Thirty Meter Telescope construction agreement.

University of Hawaii Hilo Chancellor Bonnie Irwin said earlier this month she expected some opposition to the Halepohaku site, but “we also know that many of the opponents are very happy that we’re going to be decommissioning the site on the summit.”

The public comments are expected to be forwarded to the university system’s Board of Regents, which will decide how to proceed with the project.

The board also established a group to investigate proposed changes to plans for Mauna Kea lands managed by the university.

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