Telescope director welcomes Mauna Kea park proposal

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Mayor Harry Kim’s dream of making Mauna Kea a park didn’t come as a surprise to one telescope director, who said he shares Kim’s underlying philosophy.

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Mayor Harry Kim’s dream of making Mauna Kea a park didn’t come as a surprise to one telescope director, who said he shares Kim’s underlying philosophy.

Doug Simons, executive director of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope atop the mountain, said he sees Kim as trying to get people to think outside the box and end what the astronomer calls entrenchment of competing interests.

“It’s not trying to rewrite potential uses for the mountain,” said Simons, who also sits on the Office of Mauna Kea Management board. “I think what he is after is for people to look at the situation at a fundamentally different way … and putting aside a winner versus loser mentality.”

He said the mayor previously had spoken to him about the idea, which Kim mentioned publicly at his inauguration Monday.

The mountain has been the center of a conflict over the proposed construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, which some Native Hawaiians oppose because they say it will desecrate sacred land.

“I know the specialness of the place, of what it feels like,” Kim said after being sworn in.

“What is my dream of Mauna Kea? … I believe we should work for Mauna Kea as a park, a Hawaii park, the whole mountain.

“And the purpose of that park is a very simple one. Of all the studies done there, it is a quest for knowledge to make us a better people, a quest for knowledge to make us better stewards of this land.”

Kim, who supports TMT, suggested uses should fall within the “parameters of this quest,” and he thinks the mountain could be a monument for the world, or a symbol of Hawaii.

He later referred to the idea as a “people’s park” or a “park of the people” and said he would speak with Gov. David Ige and officials at the University of Hawaii, which has a master lease for 11,288 acres, about his vision.

The mountain belongs to the state, so Hawaii County has no direct authority over that land.

Kealoha Pisciotta, a TMT opponent, said Kim has not talked to their side about his idea, and she is disappointed that he continues to support the giant telescope project, which is going through a second contested case hearing.

“I’m a little disappointed that he came out in support of something that is still in the legal process,” Pisciotta said.

She said calling it a “park” also doesn’t reflect the views of those Hawaiians who see it as a religious site.

“It’s nice for people to suggest Mauna Kea should be a park, but it is our church,” Pisciotta said, adding that she supports recreational and hunting activity on the mountain.

Kim didn’t return a call to his office Tuesday by deadline, but Scott Ishikawa, a spokesman for TMT International Observatory, confirmed that TMT Chairman Henry Yang met with the mayor that morning.

Ishikawa said the meeting lasted 10 to 15 minutes and was meant to congratulate Kim on his election. Ishikawa said the park idea came up, but he had no additional comment.

Simons said he thinks Kim’s vision can be accomplished without radically changing the bureaucracy and that the Mauna Kea management office under UH-Hilo can continue to play a role.

“The Mauna Kea management board, our role, is to listen to the community,” he said. “By doing so, I think we do justice to the whole structure of OMKM.”

Meanwhile, an effort to collect input about the future of Mauna Kea, which Simons is part of, could begin shortly.

Susan Maddox, executive team leader with the nonprofit Friends of the Future, which is overseeing the “EnVision Maunakea” process, said 10 people have been selected to serve on an ‘aha kuka that will oversee 12 to 15 forums around Hawaii Island. Their first meeting is Saturday.

Simons said those listening sessions could begin as early as January. He said he thinks Kim’s vision will assist that process.

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“He’s promoting Mauna Kea as a symbol of peace,” Simons said. “He’s very passionate about that.”

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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