BLNR weighs TMT sublease today

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources will consider granting a sublease for the Thirty Meter Telescope today at its meeting in Honolulu.

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The state Board of Land and Natural Resources will consider granting a sublease for the Thirty Meter Telescope today at its meeting in Honolulu.

The nearly 20-year sublease would set the stage for construction of the $1.3 billion telescope on Mauna Kea.

The board was to consider approval of the agreement June 13, but deferred action to allow the University of Hawaii, which holds the general lease, to address additional questions raised during public testimony at the last meeting.

The questions pertain to how the sublease complies with a “substantial sublease rent” requirement and whether it conflicts with a “prohibition on options to renew leases.”

Additionally, the board asked UH to respond to a letter from the National Council on Historic Preservation questioning whether it complied with consultation requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act.

The sublease would cover about 6 acres and last until Dec. 31, 2033, when UH’s general lease for the Mauna Kea Science Reserve expires. The proposed sublease obligates UH to seek the issuance of a new 65-year general lease. The UH Board of Regents voted 15-1 in favor of the proposal in February.

Annual rent starts at $300,000 for the first three years and increases periodically. A rent schedule shows it topping out at $1.08 million at 11 years.

Rent amounts will be adjusted based on the consumer price index.

The telescope has been slated for completion in 2021.

TMT, which gets its name from its 30-meter-wide primary mirror, would be larger than any existing telescope. But another large telescope project is close on its heels.

The European-Extremely Large Telescope will have a 39-meter-wide mirror, and is scheduled for completion in Chile within 10 years, according to BBC News. The news agency reported June 19 that site preparations had begun.

At the meeting, the board will also consider requests from Kalani Flores and Dan Purcell to hold a contested case hearing on the sublease.

Flores was one of the petitioners in a contested case hearing regarding a conservation district use permit issued in 2011.

That lengthy process led to a favorable ruling on behalf of the telescope, which the board accepted April 2013. The petitioners appealed the decision to 3rd Circuit Court in Hilo.

The court affirmed the findings from the contested case hearing May 5.

The board today will also consider requests from Flores, Paul Neves and Hanalei Fergerstrom to hold a contested case hearing on a proposal from last year in which UH sought a new general lease agreement covering the observatories on the mountain. Neves is also one of the original petitioners in the TMT case.

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UH withdrew that request while it conducts an environmental impact statement. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is requesting dismissal of those three requests.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@ hawaii tribune-herald.com.

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