Haleakala: A Sense of the Future

The sacred summit will see more science buildings

Haleakala Times
March 16 - March 29, 2005

by Geoffrey T. Moore

I was fortunate to see filmmaker Jay April's "Haleakala: A Sense of Place" when I was at a friend's house who had received an advance copy. When I picked up the DVD case to see what it was all about, I discovered that the film was being presented by the Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) and made possible for educational purposes by the Air Force and the University of Hawai'i Institute for Astronomy (UHIFA).

My first thought was that this film must be a public relations piece to warm up the public to the idea of continued astronomy installations at Kolekole (Science City) atop the summit of Haleakala. My friends and I watched the film, which was a historical and cultural overview of Haleakala that featured a number of well-known and respected local experts on the subject.

The film was prefaced by pretty telescope images of far-away astrological features, while the narrator suggested that, through the sky and stars, we can rediscover how the Hawaiian voyage began.

My interest grew weeks later when I found out that the Maui Arts and Cultural Center was presenting the film for $11 per head, and that it would be followed by an astronomy discussion. This public relations and educational presentation made me very curious about the plans for Kolekole.

After speaking with a number of folks who have knowledge of past and present UHIFA projects on both Haleakala and Mauna Kea, I was pointed to the UH website where they conveniently make available the "Haleakala High Altitude Observatory Site Long Range Development Plan." It contains a comprehensive plan outlining Kolekole's future, including these four major proposed installations:

The first is the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS), which "...is designed to be the next level of advancement in discovering asteroids and comets whose orbits bring them into the inner solar system, and therefore present collision risk to the Earth. These objects are collectively known as Near Earth Objects (NEOs)."

Second on the slate is the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST) "The ATST will be the largest and most capable solar telescope in the world. It will be an indispensable tool for exploring and understanding physical processes on the Sun that ultimately affect Earth."

Third is the SLR 2000 that "is an autonomous and eye-safe photon- counting Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) station. The system will provide 24 hour tracking coverage of artificial satellites at altitudes up to 20,000km for the NASA Goddard ranging program in which IFA has been participating."

Last but not least is the Advanced Electro-Optical System (AEOS) Mirror Coating Facility: "The AEOS telescope is the largest and most sensitive telescope within the Department of Defense. The telescope mirror needs to be recoated approximately every six years. To maintain the capability of AEOS, an on-site Mirror Coating Facility will be constructed."

After reading the proposed plans for Kolekole, I became concerned for the area's future and was excited to attend the film and participate in the discussion that would follow. About 700 people attended the event at MACC on February 20.

Kahu "Uncle Charlie" Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., who guided the film project with his knowledge of Haleakala, opened the ceremonies with a chant. MEDB President Jeanne Skog then addressed the audience. She thought people might be wondering, "Why the heck are we involved in this film at all?"

She keyed in on four important words from the MEDB mission statement: To provide leadership and vision in our community for the "responsible design and development" of a strong and diversified economy. She continued to say, "So as we're encouraging activities like astronomy and state research, we feel that responsible development should also respect our cultural and environmental values as we peruse our economic goals."

She also pointed out that this balance was emphasized in the 2003 Focus Maui Nui community survey project.

The film was preceded by a hula performance, and followed by words from film maker Jay April, and then the discussion, lead by a panel of three, including Maxwell.

Maxwell discussed his experience from 15 years ago when he was first overseeing the projects at Kolekole. He told us how he cried when 150 tons of rock were removed from the summit, dwelling place of the gods, without his consultation. After the rock was brought down the mountain and crushed, he had it returned to the National Park to be used for trails.

After this ugly start to Maxwell's relationship with the powers-that-be, he is now a paid consultant with the task of monitoring activity at Kolekole to be sure that respect for Hawaiian culture is observed. He pointed out that Science City staff and workers will be required to watch the film and learn a chant as part of their cultural training, and that an area will be set aside for the exclusive use of Hawaiian cultural ceremonies.

When the discussion was opened to questions from the audience, I asked Uncle Charlie if he thought it was appropriate to make a jump from how ancient Hawaiians observed and used the stars, to how UHIFA and the Air Force propose to use the sacred summit with defense projects such as Pan-STARRS.

He responded by saying he didn't know, "...but they would have to follow all the rules that were set forth to follow cultural protocol and cultural respect of the land before anything is built."

He then added "Oh, and one more I forgot: That if they are going to build anything, they got to tear something down and put it in it's place."

The UH Long Range Development Plan did state that all future proposed projects will be built in the current, already impacted footprint at Kolekole that was leveled 15 years ago as described in Maxwell's story, but there are no plans to tear any current infrastructure down before erecting new facilities.

While Maxwell is currently responsible for policing UHIFA and the Air Force's activity, the Maui community should carefully consider how he will be held accountable for oversight of cultural sensitivity and other important issues.

Mary Evanson of the Friends of Haleakala National Park weighed in with her concerns in an article printed in the Maui News on July 18, 2004. While her main concern was that facilities are kept within the current footprint to minimize the visual impact on top of Haleakala, unlike the expansion on Mauna Kea, she voiced concern over the introduction of alien species.

Evanson said, "They can bring in seeds or insects, so they've got to be really careful with any construction."

Another concern to be aware of is the increased traffic that future projects will bring to the already busy road leading through Haleakala National Park. The UH Long-Range Development Plan also states that during certain periods of construction there will be loud noise.

I have also heard from residents who lived here during the first construction phases at Kolekole that trash was not handled responsibly.

The development plan addresses environmental impacts on a variety of endangered species, ensuring that the current footprint will allow future projects to be built without further threats to wildlife in and outside of Science City.

I am thankful that "Haleakala: A Sense of Place" has brought awareness to the community about Haleakala, who can now raise questions about the future of Kolekole.

Is this indeed responsible design and development for Maui?

Is the Maui community behind UHIFA and the Airforce for more military and research facilities?

Are these new installations worth the cost of increased noise and traffic?

Are we certain that the fragile eco- system at Kolekole will not be threatened?

Will these new buildings bring more visual impact to the summit?

How exactly will the local economy benefit from the proposed future projects?

And finally, does this presence at the summit honor yesterday's and today's Hawaiian culture?

Find the Haleakala High Altitude Observatory Site Long-Range Development Plan posted on the Internet at: www.ifa.hawaii.edu/haleakala/LRDP