Hawaiians continue to protest solar telescope

The Maui News
Wednesday, May 03, 2006


PAUKUKALO – Hawaiian voices were unanimous Monday night in opposing the National Science Foundation's plan for an enormous telescope atop Haleakala, but it turns out that even the most united effort might not be able to stop the project.

"Normally, I say 'aloha,' but tonight I think it died," said Tim Bailey, whose job is caring for the resources at Haleakala National Park.

Just minutes earlier, the audience at the Paukukalo Community Center had learned that all its testimony protesting the proposed 14-story-tall telescope at the summit of the mountain might not make a difference in the end. National Science Foundation attorney Charisse Carney-Nunes acknowledged that while "consultation" with Native Hawaiians was required by federal law, "concurrence" – agreement – was not.

That didn't sit well with the 75 or so residents, most of them Hawaiians, who were hoping that a mountain of objections could send the telescope proponents packing.

"I've been consulting, I know the game," said a disgusted Kalei Kaeo, a Maui Community College instructor in Hawaiian studies. "We come, we show, we say a few words and they do what they want to do anyway. That's consulting."

Waiehu resident Carl Eldridge didn't know why he was wasting his time.

"If it's not going to mean anything, I'm going to leave already," he said.

As frustrated residents began walking out, Carney-Nunes encouraged them all to stay.

"I can't say it means nothing," she said. "I'm saying honestly that concurrence is not required. But just because it's not required does not make this process insignificant, it does not make this process meaningless."

The controversy over locating what would be the world's largest solar telescope on the summit of Haleakala – a sacred place to many Hawaiians – continued with no middle ground in sight. Because Haleakala has been recognized as a "traditional cultural property" under federal law, National Science Foundation officials have been asking Hawaiians to help make one of three choices regarding the $175 million project: avoid (not build at all), minimize or mitigate.

It was the third hearing in little more than a month on Maui where those speaking have essentially said the same thing.

"Please don't build that up there," urged Maile Kekahuna, a student at Maui Community College.

Rising 143 feet above ground, the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope would become the tallest building on the island. It is proposed for one of two sites in the complex of observatories, towers and other buildings on the 18-acre site managed by the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy.

National Science Foundation officials continue to say that the project, proposed by the National Solar Observatory, is in its "early stages" and that the funding has not even been approved, but members of the audience were starting to wonder if it already wasn't a done deal or if it needed only the support of a single person of importance.

"If (U.S. Sen.) Dan Inouye wants this, it will happen," said Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., noting that Congress has the final say in approving the money.

Maxwell prepared a cultural study for the developers and has taken some heat over his involvement, including a suggestion that the community be given compensation should the telescope get built.

Maxwell said he remains opposed to the telescope, but he's unsuccessfully tried to halt the construction of two earlier telescopes.

"If they're going to build it, give us something in return," said Maxwell, who suggested that developers build a traditional Hawaiian navigation and astronomy center for the community should the telescope be funded.

"I'm not in favor of this, but it might be the third time I said this and it will happen anyway."

A draft environmental impact statement is being prepared – and a hearing aimed at the general public will be held this summer.

Haleakala was chosen above 72 other sites – and six finalists – as the ideal location for what would become the world's flagship telescope for studying the sun. Bailey, though, disputed the claims of perfect conditions of little dust, low humidity and other criteria that lifted it to the top spot.

"What about the other sites?" asked Bailey.

Kiope Raymond, a Hawaiian language instructor at MCC, said that as early as 2003, officials were aware that Haleakala was a sacred site to many Hawaiians but failed to include that when making their decision.

"It's the only one of the six other sites that was ascertained to have a (cultural) significance like Haleakala," said Raymond.

Kaeo wondered if officials would even think of putting the giant telescope at such revered or sacred sites as Machu Picchu, Mt. Everest, Stonehenge or Mt. Zion.

Oliver Dukelow raised the question of land title. The 18-acre observatory site was established on ceded lands by an executive order from Gov. William Quinn in 1961. The very issue of ceded lands (former government lands taken over by the United States upon annexation and turned over to the state upon statehood) has been disputed by those who say the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom means the lands were never ceded, or surrendered.

The first Hawaiian organization also officially took a stand against the project. Lui Hokoana read a letter that said the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs – the oldest community-based grassroots Hawaiian organization in the state, representing 51 clubs throughout the islands and the Mainland – voted last weekend to support the Maui District Council and its member clubs' position to oppose construction.

Toni Dizon, an MCC agriculture student, got the first ovation. Dizon said if the government had $175 million to spare, then use the cash for a better purpose, such as the college's ag department, to clean up polluted waters on Maui, restore taro farming and help students obtain their degrees.

"You guys don't belong up there," she said. "You should purify things down here instead of futtin' around up there. You damn well don't belong on Haleakala."

Valerie Monson can be reached at vmonson@mauinews.com.

Copyright © 2005 The Maui News.

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