Haleakala plan drafted

The Maui News
Sunday, July 18, 2004

By ILIMA LOOMIS, Staff Writer

WAILUKU - Astronomers at Haleakala would build new telescopes on already-developed areas, have a cultural expert supervise building activities and set aside land for Hawaiian cultural and religious use, all as part of a long-range development plan released as a draft last week.

A Native Hawaiian cultural leader praised the plan as a key step toward improving relations between astronomers with the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy and the Hawaiian people. But the superintendent of Haleakala National Park said he wished the plan went further in discussing long-term development on the mountain summit.

Michael Maberry, assistant director of external relations and business development for the UH IfA, said the plan would be a guide for development over the next decade.

"We've never had a plan before. This is the first plan we've had," he said.

The goal of the IfA plan was "for us to accomplish our scientific goals in a culturally and environmentally sensitive manner," Maberry said.

The master plan was required before the IfA could propose any new facilities on the summit. The summit "Science City" currently includes the Mees Solar Observatory and an adjoining Solar C coronagraph operated by the IfA, the under-construction Faulkes Telescope Project and the Air Force's Maui Space Surveillance Complex.

A former LURE lunar-ranging observatory is being redeveloped to house a University of Tokyo 2-meter telescope, the Multicolor Active Galactic Nuclei Monitoring system for study distant galaxies. The LURE site also is planned for a prototype asteroid-spotting observatory, the $10 million Pan-STARRS (Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System).

Haleakala is also in the running for a major new observatory, the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope, an $80-$100 million project that would establish the winning site as a leader in solar research.

One of the most significant new provisions in the plan is designation of a 24,000-square-foot area southwest of the Maui Space Surveillance Complex "for the sole reverent use of the kanaka maoli for religious and cultural purposes," according to the draft.

Maberry said that provision came about after some Hawaiian practitioners said they didn't feel comfortable performing traditional religious and cultural activities at the summit of the mountain because it was too busy and crowded with people.

"That's one of the more significant things to me in the document," Maberry said.

In addition, Maberry said UH staff and workers on observatory projects would be required to undergo cultural training before starting work at Science City.

Maberry said one of the most important achievements of the draft was the way it was researched - through consultations with Hawaiian elders and cultural experts.

Through the consultations, "I realized that the scientists of the IfA shared the same aspiration for discovery that drove the 'Wayfinders' across the ocean to discover these islands," Maberry said. He also said he learned that UH activities could be compatible with cultural requirements if they were done in a manner appropriate to Hawaiian protocols.

Hawaiian cultural specialist Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. was very pleased with the plan and its coverage of cultural issues.

"Yeah, this is the right way of doing things," he said.

He liked a requirement that all construction activity would be supervised by a cultural expert, who would respect Hawaiian protocols by leading a prayer chant at the beginning and end of each day of work.

And he was glad that new workers would be required to learn about Hawaiian culture and Haleakala's significance before starting work. Another provision requires that any soil or rocks that are dug up at the summit must be left at the mountaintop, not taken downhill to be crushed and disposed of.

"I never thought I could get this much," he said. "They cannot even move cinders with a hoe or alter the ground in any way without us first finding out what it's all about."

Haleakala was a sacred, religious place for ancient Hawaiians, and it was considered a wao akua, or a place where gods and spirits lived. Priests and their students visited the mountaintop for initiation rites and ceremonial activities, along with Hawaiians conducting rituals of birth and death. But for most commoners without religious business to attend to, the summit of Haleakala was kapu.

Don Reeser, superintendent of Haleakala National Park, had some reservations about the plan. He said he was hoping to see more discussion on the overall scope of development on the mountain and on alternative strategies for building telescopes.

"It seems to me like the concept is 'Haleakala is a great place for astronomical research, so we hope to build more,' " he said.

While the plan describes four potential new facilities which could be built at the summit, Reeser wanted to know how much total development would be allowed at the 18.16-acre UH site.

"We know as soon as those things are built there's going to be more on the table," he said.

He said the draft included a wealth of good data on plant and animal species, archaeological sites, cultural practices, geology and other factors on Haleakala. But he hoped to see a more analytical approach to the plan for development, including a presentation on possible alternatives of use.

"There's a lot of good data that explains what's there and what's proposed for the immediate future," he said. "It doesn't really discuss alternatives like an environmental impact statement would for public discussion."

He didn't have any strong objections to the immediate plans for development, but he was concerned that the telescopes would be built in a way that would not introduce invasive species on equipment and materials.

"They've been pretty good about inspecting and cleaning those things," he said.

Mary Evanson of Friends of Haleakala National Park said her main concern was minimizing the visual impact of the telescopes and having installation of new instruments remain within the existing bounds.

"They're going to stay within their 18 acres, and that's always been our concern, expanding that area like they have done on the Big Island, where they've got telescopes all over," she said.

She also was concerned about the introduction of alien species.

"They can bring in seeds or insects (on vehicles), so they've got to be really careful with any construction," she said.

She'd already found one issue she'll bring up to UH officials: two old, stunted pine trees found on the property and recorded in the IfA report. Evanson was afraid of seeing a proliferation of pines on Haleakala.

"I'm going to tell them to take those two pine trees out," she said.


The University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy occupies an 18.16-acre site at the summit of Haleakala, of which 4.5 acres are leased to the Army Corps of Engineers for the U.S. Air Force Maui Space Surveillance Complex. The site has housed telescopes since the 1960s. Current facilities specialize in studying the sun; observing satellites, asteroids, "space junk" and other near-Earth objects; optical and infrared surveillance; and educational astronomical research.

The IfA's draft long-range development plan for the facility can be viewed online at www.ifa.hawaii.edu/haleakala/LRDP. Key features of the plan include:

New facilities

  • Pan-STARRS, a cutting-edge system for detecting asteroids and comets headed toward Earth could be built on Haleakala. One telescope will be constructed as a test, and three more will be added if Maui is chosen over the Big Island for the complete facility.
  • ATST, the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope, will be "the largest and most capable solar telescope in the world," according to the IfA. Haleakala is among the top three sites for the telescope, out of 72 considered.
  • SLR-2000, a satellite laser ranging station will update current systems for illuminating satellites with laser beams.
  • A mirror-coating facility for the Advanced Electro-Optical System telescope will allow scientists to maintain the telescope's delicate mirror.

Construction and management policies

  • New development will be placed on the "footprints" of old telescopes or on land that has already been graded - not in undisturbed areas.
  • Construction of new facilities will not be allowed to harm archaeological resources or the habitat of endangered Hawaiian petrels, which nest in burrows nearby.
  • Contractors will be required to take steps to prevent construction equipment and materials from introducing invasive species.
  • Construction will be monitored by a Hawaiian cultural specialist, and workers will attend "sense of place" cultural training.
  • The UH will set aside a 24,000-square-foot reserve for religious and cultural use by Hawaiians.

Ilima Loomis can be reached at iloomis@mauinews.com.