Telescope would add to clutter at summit

Concern expressed, but so is praise for project

The Maui News
Saturday, July 14, 2001

Staff Writer

KAHULUI — If the Faulkes Telescope Project becomes a part of Haleakala's increasingly cluttered summit, then the entire mountaintop must immediately be placed under a microscope so a long-overdue master plan can be developed.

That was the message heard in public meetings conducted on Thursday at Maui Community College by the University of Hawaii Board of Regents and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. The hearings focused on a request from the UH Institute for Astronomy to construct a 2-meter telescope and observatory for educational purposes.

"I wrote a letter 12 years ago that said, 'Hey, we need a master plan,' " said Don Reeser, superintendent of Haleakala National Park. He acknowledged the telescope itself has "worthy objectives," but he remains concerned about the additional impact on the summit.

"There should be no more facilities (after Faulkes) until the master plan is done. I hope I'm not coming back to the land board a year from now to comment on another project. We need a master plan," he said.

The Faulkes Telescope is a joint effort between the university and Great Britain to provide educational opportunities to students who will be able to view the heavens and conduct research projects through use of the Internet. The much-publicized project would be financed mostly by private funds in the United Kingdom along with some money raised in Hawaii.

While there was genuine enthusiasm about the learning and research possibilities of the telescope, Maui residents long involved in the preservation of Haleakala were crossing their fingers that the construction would be done properly and the final structure would not be yet another eyesore.

"I'm not against the Faulkes," said Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., addressing representatives of the Finance and Facilities Committee from the University of Hawaii Board of Regents. "But how many more of these (telescopes) will be good for education and good for the people of Hawaii and Great Britain at the expense of the Hawaiian culture?"

Maxwell said he couldn't help but be somewhat suspicious considering his experience with the U.S. Air Force a few years ago. He maintains he was misled about the removal of rocks at the summit and the final visual impact of the telescope facility, which has been likened to a giant pressure cooker.

"I've been promised things before," said Maxwell.

Everett Dowling, the UH regent from Maui, assured Maxwell the Faulkes project would be different. While other telescopes atop Haleakala have prompted "criticism about what we as a community can gain from it," Dowling said that "this (Faulkes) will give us something in return."

There was certainly no denying the excitement of Dendrick Kamalu, Maui Community College student body president who grew up on Molokai. Speaking "both as a Hawaiian and a student," Kamalu said he envisions the telescope doing exactly what it's supposed to do: inspire young people to become interested in the sciences in general and astronomy in particular.

Kamalu said there's already a line at MCC to check out the heavenly views that will be offered by Faulkes.

"We have 13 students enrolled in astronomy for this fall and nine are Hawaiian," said Kamalu, who spoke at both meetings and thanked everyone after the meetings for bringing the technology to Maui. "They have that interest to learn. They have that desire."

Moana Andersen, the former Maui Planning Commission member and mother of three teen-agers, also supported the project. She said ancient Hawaiians, highly skilled in navigating by the stars, would approve, as well.

"What an honor to have in our back yard the Faulkes Telescope," she said.

The telescope will be housed in an observatory with a folding dome that will be located on a south-facing ridge of Science City and, according to UH professor Jim Heasley, will not be visible from Haleakala National Park or sea-level locations. The white dome will roll back to allow the telescope to rise up and peek into the universe. The 3,300-square-foot facility will be 10 feet high topped by the 20-foot dome.

Teachers in Hawaii and Great Britain will be allowed to reserve time with the telescope and make observations by remote control from their classrooms on the Internet. Despite the high-tech wonder of bringing the stars to Earth, there's one thing all the fanciest instruments in the world can't guarantee.

"They'll still be dependent on the weather," said Heasley.

Telescope activities will not be limited to the teachers who book in advance. Other classes will be able to "eavesdrop," or link to the site, to watch what's occurring.

In his presentation, Heasley showed dramatic close-ups of variable stars, asteroids and comets that students will be able to zoom in on.

UH will also provide programs to train teachers on how to use the technology.

The reason Great Britain wanted to partner with Hawaii is because when it's daytime there, it's nighttime here, allowing the British students optimum viewing from Haleakala, one of the best places in the world for astronomy.

But what about Maui kids?

Heasley said students here will be allowed to use the telescope during the morning, aided by an infrared camera, and the early part of the night.

Although the telescope is expected to be completed next year, Heasley said the infrared sensors won't be ready at that point and will come later.

The Board of Regents is being asked to approve a lease for an initial operating period of 10 years. UH officials said the relatively short time frame of a decade was asked for by their British counterparts because they were more confident of funds for that period. If successful, they will ask for an extension of the lease, but should money dry up, the observatory will be removed and the mountaintop will be restored. DLNR must grant a conditional use permit for the project that will be located in the 18-acre reserve of Science City where UH and the Air Force already have several telescopes.

Because Gov. Ben Cayetano has recently released $500,000 to begin developing a master plan for the Haleakala summit, Maxwell asked the Board of Regents and DLNR to wholeheartedly support that action to keep the summit from turning into a mishmash of observatories, antennas and communications dishes.

Dowling said the regents at Thursday's meeting would make a recommendation on the lease to the full committee. That group will then make a recommendation to the board.

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