Talks in works for early decommission of telescopes

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Decommissioning of as many as three telescopes could be expedited as the University of Hawaii responds to protests from Native Hawaiians over the construction of the largest observatory yet on Mauna Kea.

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Decommissioning of as many as three telescopes could be expedited as the University of Hawaii responds to protests from Native Hawaiians over the construction of the largest observatory yet on Mauna Kea.

“There’s been some internal discussion of essentially putting a more definite timetable on what’s in the current decommission plan,” said Bob McLaren, associate director of UH’s Institute for Astronomy.

That will likely involving expediting the removal of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, already scheduled to be decommissioned between 2016 and 2018, and up to two more telescopes that are not expected to operate beyond 2033, he said.

Those include the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope, Very Long Baseline Array, and at least one of the other submillimeter telescopes, McLaren said.

The mountain is home to 13 telescopes. The latest to be approved for construction, the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope, has been met with numerous protests from Hawaiians who say they are protecting a sacred mountain.

Sandra Dawson, TMT spokeswoman, said she doesn’t expect an announcement this week about when TMT will restart grubbing and grading of the project site at the 13,150-foot elevation. On April 2, 31 protesters were arrested on the mountain when construction crews last attempted to reach the site.

Jodi Leong, a spokeswoman for Gov. David Ige, said the governor and his administration have been in “continuous discussions and conversations with all stakeholders” since last week’s announcement that construction would continue to be delayed.

“Progress is being made, but it will take time to come to a comprehensive solution to this matter,” Leong said.

Meanwhile, the University of Hawaii Board of Regents will be back on the Big Island Sunday to reconvene last week’s emotional meeting related to the management of Mauna Kea.

“This meeting is fulfilling a promise made by the board at the end of last Thursday’s meeting to give everyone who wants to testify before the board the opportunity to do so,” UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said.

Like its predecessor, Sunday’s special meeting is strictly informational. There will be no decision making and no discussion other than possible questions from the regents to testifiers or UH officials, Meisenzahl said.

The meeting begins at 11:30 a.m. in the UH-Hilo Performing Arts Center.

Last week, following its regular meeting there, the 15-member board went into a special meeting where it was to be briefed on the management of Mauna Kea and the Mauna Kea Science Reserve.

Instead, hundreds of TMT opponents filled the college’s largest lecture hall, ultimately pushing the board to defer its briefing to make time for testimony.

Meisenzahl said since that meeting, the board has received an additional 200 pieces of written testimony, bringing the total to around 1,250. While he did not have an updated breakdown, 97 percent of the original 1,040 pieces of testimony were in opposition to TMT. Twenty-eight submitted testimony in support, while two offered only comments.

Of 120 people who signed up to testify April 16, 61 had a chance to speak. The board called the meeting to an end at 3 p.m. so that certain members could catch flights home, promising a second meeting would be scheduled at a later date.

“I think a lot of people just thought they’d never see the regents again,” said Meisenzahl, adding that it was no small feat finding a day and location that worked.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs meets today with representatives from the governor’s office, UH, the Office of Mauna Kea Management, the Mauna Kea Hui and the Mauna Kea ʻOhana to discuss the telescope project.

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“We are glad that the Mauna Kea ʻOhana will participate in the discussions to convey their own positions and perspectives. With the different parties coming together in shared conversation, we believe this will bring greater understanding for everyone — an important first step in efforts aimed at finding resolution,” said OHA Chairperson Robert K. Lindsey Jr.

Additionally, the OHA Board of Trustees has called a special meeting April 30 to discuss its position on Mauna Kea and the TMT on April 30.

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