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Board of Land and Natural Resources Approves TMT Permit

Thirty Meter Telescope artists rendition. TMT photo.

Updated to include a statement from the University of Hawai`i.

The Hawai‘i Board of Land and Natural Resources adopted the recommendation of retired judge Riki May Amano to approve the application for a Conservation District Use Permit to build the Thirty-Meter Telescope on Thursday morning. The decision was made in a 5-2 majority vote.

“This was one of the most difficult decisions this Board has ever made,” said Board and DLNR Chair Suzanne Case. “The members greatly respected and considered the concerns raised by those opposed to the construction of the Thirty-Meter Telescope at the Mauna Kea Science Reserve.”

Supporters of the project testified during a contested case hearing and in oral arguments that Hawaiian culture and modern science can co-exist on the mountain.

Construction of the TMT is expected to provide jobs for more than 100 people and at completion, permanent jobs for as many as 140 workers on the island of Hawai‘i, according to the DLNR.

The consortium of research universities behind the TMT have provided $2.5 million for scholarships, classroom projects, and STEM grants every year since 2014. Under the CDUP, builders of the TMT must provide an additional one million dollars each year for college scholarships for native Hawaiians and other educational initiatives on Hawai‘i Island.

The Board adopted 43 conditions to the permit including Governor David Ige’s previously detailed “path forward” 10-point plan requiring the University of Hawai’i to decommission three existing telescopes, any future development to occur on existing sites, and the TMT site to be the last new site on Mauna Kea. Additional conditions include:

  • Design choices to mitigate visual and aesthetic effects
  • Waste minimization plan for hazardous & solid waste, including a zero discharge wastewater system
  • Cultural and natural resources training for workers
  • No impact to water resources under the public trust doctrine, Lake Waiau hydrology & water resources considerations
  • Educational exhibits, specific community outreach efforts and cultural observation days
  • Invasive species prevention and control
  • Continued public access and continuing consultations with cultural practitioners
  • Arthropod monitoring and Wekiu bug habitat restoration study

Statement from the University of Hawai`i.

“The University of Hawaiʻi thanks the Board of Land and Natural Resources and the hearing officer for all of their diligence and hard work on this second contested case. The university first applied for this permit seven years ago, and we believe this decision and the underlying vote represent a fitting and fair reflection of an issue that has divided many in the community who care deeply about Maunakea.

Maunakea is precious to all of Hawaiʻi, and we know that science and culture can synergistically coexist there, now and into the future. We have a solid foundation to build on with the plans that have been developed and the work that has been done thanks to the dedication of the Office of Maunakea Management and the volunteer community members who have served on the Mauanakea Management Board and the Kahu Kū Mauna council over the past 17 years.

We know we have more to do, and we stand firmly committed to collaboratively build a global model of harmonious and inspirational stewardship that is befitting of the amazing cultural, natural, educational and scientific traditions and resources of Maunakea.”

A copy of the preface to the Board’s Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Decision and Order can be found verbatim below:

The Board adopts the hearing officer’s recommended findings of fact, conclusions of law, and
decision and order, with modifications, including additional conditions. The Board commends
the hearing officer’s thorough, comprehensive and well-considered report, prepared after 44 days
of hearings. The Board’s modifications are consistent with the hearing officer’s factual findings
and legal conclusions. Along with minor corrections, the changes mostly give further
explanations for some aspects of the decision.

Because of the length of this document, the Board thought it would be useful to the parties and
public to give a brief summary. This Preface cannot describe fully how the Board considered
various factors. It is not intended to replace or supplement the findings of fact, conclusions of
law, and decision and order, and they prevail in case of any perceived conflict between them and
this Preface.

The TMT is a very large structure, 180 feet tall, proposed near the top of a culturally important
and magnificently beautiful mountain. This project is not, however, on an untouched landscape.
Mauna Kea now hosts twelve observatories, including six that are between 100 and 151 feet tall.
The first large telescope on Mauna Kea was completed forty-seven years ago.
The TMT will not pollute groundwater, will not damage any historic sites, will not harm rare
plants or animals, will not release toxic materials, and will not otherwise harm the environment.
It will not significantly change the appearance of the summit of Mauna Kea from populated areas
on Hawai‘i Island.

The TMT site and its vicinity were not used for traditional and customary native Hawaiian
practices conducted elsewhere on Mauna Kea, such as depositing piko, quarrying rock for adzes,
pilgrimages, collecting water from Lake Waiau, or burials. The site is not on the summit ridge,
which is more visible, and, according to most evidence presented, more culturally important than
the plateau 500 feet lower where TMT will be built.
Some groups perform ceremonies near the summit. The evidence shows that these ceremonies
began after the summit access road and first telescopes were built, but, in any case, the TMT will
not interfere with them.

Individuals testified that seeing the TMT will disturb them when they are doing ceremonies or
other spiritual practices. The TMT cannot be seen from the actual summit or from many other
places on the summit ridge. Where it would be visible, other large telescopes are already in
view. It will not block views from the summit ridge of the rising sun, setting sun, or Haleakalā.
Some native Hawaiians expressed that Mauna Kea is so sacred that the very idea of a large
structure is offensive. But there are already twelve observatories on Mauna Kea, some of them
almost as large as the TMT. They will remain even if the TMT is not built. No credible evidence
was presented that the TMT would somehow be worse from a spiritual or cultural point of view
than the other large observatories. Each observatory received a permit after a process allowing
public participation and judicial review, over a period spanning three decades.

To the extent that the belief that Mauna Kea is too sacred to allow large structures is a religious
one, under the federal and state constitutions a group’s religious beliefs cannot be given veto
power over the use of public land.

Other witnesses, including some native Hawaiians, embrace a different way of thinking and
feeling about the TMT: as a project that honors Mauna Kea rather than injures it. After a
worldwide search, scientists found that Mauna Kea is the best site on earth for the most advanced
telescope ever built. Mauna Kea will forever be known throughout the world as the site of
profound discoveries about the universe. These witnesses see TMT and the other telescopes, not
as objects spoiling the landscape, but as portals to discovery placed in this site made ideal for
them.

To these witnesses, respect for Mauna Kea can be reconciled with modern astronomy. When
ancient Hawaiians found a resource valuable to them – the densest rock in Hawai‘i – near the
summit of Mauna Kea, they made use of it, quarrying hundreds of acres. Ancient Hawaiians
intensely studied the stars in ways consistent with their technology. Traditional Hawaiian
navigation depended upon knowledge of the stars.

King David Kalākaua enthusiastically supported astronomy in Hawai‘i. He wrote: “It will afford
me unfeigned satisfaction if my kingdom can add its quota toward the successful
accomplishment of the most important astronomical observation of the present century…”
TMT will contribute $1 million a year toward education, and has signed a sublease agreement
committing $300,000/yr. at first, increasing to $1 million/yr., for conservation on Mauna Kea.
No existing observatory makes any such contributions.

Astronomy directly supports about 1,000 jobs in Hawai’i. TMT will employ about 140 people.
The decision contains 43 special conditions to ensure that the project lives up to its
environmental commitments, that the educational fund will help the underserved members of the
community, that TMT will train and hire local workers, and that the native Hawaiian cultural
presence at Hale Pōhaku will be enhanced.

Astronomers discovered that the earth goes around the sun; that we live in one of more than 100
billion galaxies; that our universe expanded from a single point 13.7 billion years ago. These
discoveries shape how we see our place in the universe. Other telescopes on Mauna Kea have
already contributed to human knowledge. TMT, if built, will do the same.

One native Hawaiian story about the origin of Mauna Kea is that Wakea, “Sky Father”, and Papa,
“Earth Mother”, created a child, Hawai’i Island. Mauna Kea is the highest summit of the island,
this union of heaven and earth. Today, Mauna Kea is the best place on earth to study the
heavens.

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