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TMT opponents: Governor’s plan not enough


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Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners challenging the Thirty Meter Telescope in court say they were left disappointed following Gov. David Ige’s remarks on management of Mauna Kea.

While Ige outlined steps Tuesday that he hopes will lead to better stewardship, including decommissioning of at least three telescopes before the TMT is built, Paul Neves and Kealoha Pisciotta told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald that the governor’s vision for the mountain still falls short since it won’t stop telescope construction. They said it also won’t resolve the conflict on Mauna Kea, where TMT opponents remain.

“Essentially, he said a lot; but he didn’t address anything relevant to what’s happening on the ground,” Pisciotta said.

“The thing that I think the governor is missing is the realization that astronomy is a privilege, not a right, and desecration is against the law in Hawaii,” she added.

Both Pisciotta and Neves, who are among six plaintiffs challenging the project’s land use permit and sublease, said construction should remain on hold until appeals are exhausted.

“There’s still a legal appeal,” said Neves, a kumu hula.

“And to continue the project when we have a legal appeal, I don’t think he’s being advised properly.”

Ige said in a press conference in Honolulu that TMT has the right to proceed with construction while legal challenges occur.

Henry Yang, chairman of the TMT International Observatory board, thanked Ige for supporting the project’s right to proceed.

“We will work with the framework he has put forth,” Yang said in a statement. “We know we have a lot of work ahead of us. We appreciate that there are still people who are opposed to the project, and we will continue to respectfully listen and work with them to seek solutions.”

It remained unclear when TMT will attempt to resume construction.

The petitioners previously lost a challenge of the land use permit in 3rd Circuit Court. It’s currently in the state Intermediate Court of Appeals.

Neves said appeals of the $1.4 billion telescope project will continue until it is stopped.

Grubbing and grading work at the TMT site at the 13,150-foot elevation has been on hold since April 2 when 31 protesters were arrested after trying to block construction crews.

Protesters, who refer to themselves as protectors, say they are trying to protect sacred ground.

The mountain is home to 13 telescopes. Ige said that the number needs to be reduced and that there needs to be a balance between culture and science.

He also called for a Mauna Kea cultural council to advise the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, and urged the University of Hawaii, which manages the Mauna Kea Science Reserve, to take steps he outlined to improve stewardship.

Neves said there is already a Hawaiian council that advises the Office of Mauna Kea Management, and he wasn’t sure what a new committee would accomplish.

“Please, we are tired of advisories,” he said, that “rubber stamp” for the university.

Ige also urged UH to restart its environmental review process for its new master lease application. The university needs a new lease for astronomy to continue on Mauna Kea beyond 2033.

Both Pisciotta and Neves said they plan to fight the renewal request no matter what steps are taken.

“A lot of years of good science can be done,” Pisciotta said. “Keep doing it. We need to say at that the end, after 65 years, this is enough.”

They also said they will continue to support protesters who try to stop telescope construction.

“He didn’t start this craziness; he inherited it,” Neves said of Ige.

“He’s the first one to say decommission some of it. I’ll give him that. It’s true, but it’s too late; it’s way too late.”

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


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