Maunakea VIS face-lift complete

  • Tribune-Herald file photo Tourists look through a telescope in September 2017 at the Maunakea Visitor Information Station.

A million-dollar renovation at the Maunakea Visitor Information Station has been completed for months, but nobody has been able to experience it yet.

In January, the University of Hawaii’s Office of Maunakea Management began work on a $1.53 million project to improve the VIS located more than 9,000 feet above sea level on the Maunakea Access Road.

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The improvements included a new, higher-capacity parking lot in addition to the current lot, gates for both parking lots and new entry and exit lanes. The project was meant to address the impacts of a high number of visitors to the station in recent years.

However, although the project was completed in July, visitors to the station have been entirely absent because of the indefinite closure of Maunakea Access Road in advance of the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

That closure, of course, led to the ongoing occupation of the base of the access road by opponents of TMT. Since the occupation began July 15, no TMT construction efforts have occurred on Maunakea, and the road has not been reopened to the public.

And the VIS has remained unoccupied.

UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said there were eight employees at the VIS before the standoff began. Six of them are still working for UH, but were transferred to Food and Lodging staff at Halepohaku below the summit of Maunakea.

Those six employees have been among several people permitted by the protesters to ascend the mountain in the course of work.

Meisenzahl said there have been no furloughs among the employees, but was unable to comment further about the circumstances of the remaining two employees.

The VIS was in the process of reopening immediately when the standoff began, and Meisenzahl said it could reopen quickly should access be restored.

“I don’t think it would be one of those cases where we’d open a few weeks after the road opens,” Meisenzahl said. “We could get started pretty quickly.”

The question of when the VIS will be able to reopen remains unknown. While the approaching winter might conceivably delay any attempted TMT construction, TMT officials were tight-lipped about their plans.

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“While Maunakea’s winter and snowy conditions will come into play with our construction schedule, our main priority right now is getting started,” said TMT spokesman Scott Ishikawa.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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