Saturday, February 22, 2020

More TMT

The editorial below from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, as reproduced from yesterday's UCOP Daily News Clips, suggests 1) local elected leaders in Hawaii are unable to produce anything but delay on the TMT project, 2) there is little to be gained by further discussions, and 3) the only resolution, if any, will come from the state legislature.

As far as UC is concerned, it seems unlikely that UC prez Napolitano will play much of a role, since she is looking toward retiring this coming summer. UC Regents Chair John A. Pérez has promised some kind of hearing on this matter. Although he has a legislative/political background, whether he has a sense of Hawaii politics remains to be seen.

After spending a decade securing the necessary permits and permission from the state and Hawaii County — and surmounting legal challenges — the Thirty Meter Telescope’s partners have the legal right to proceed with a $1.4 billion project slated to put in operation the planet’s most advanced and largest optical telescope.

It was more than seven months ago — on July 10 — that Gov. David Ige announced that TMT construction, near Mauna Kea’s summit, would begin mid-month. It didn’t, of course. Instead, protesters blocked Mauna Kea Access Road until late December, when Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim negotiated the so-called two-month truce. Kim is now asking the TMT stakeholders to wait for two more months in hopes that additional time will help resolve controversy surrounding telescope construction. There’s scant evidence — in the public sphere, at least — that this tactic would yield anything more than more undue delay.

For astronomers representing various scientific institutions and nations, Mauna Kea is the place where the atmosphere is uniquely fit to study formation of galaxies at the edge of the observable universe. For many Native Hawaiians, the dormant volcano is an important place to connect with natural and spiritual worlds. It’s clear that both perspectives are grounded in reverence for the site. And it stands to reason that both Native Hawaiian culture and next-generation science could co-exist — collaborate, even — and thrive on Mauna Kea. But protest leaders, some exuding near-religious fervor, have dug into a divisive zero- sum stance.

While still weighing Kim’s request, TMT International Observatory’s board of directors issued a statement stressing that discussions with community members are continuing in an effort to find a “peaceful, lawful and non-violent way forward that honors and supports our scientific goals, environmental stewardship and the traditions and culture of Hawaii.” The University of Hawaii, which holds the lease on the 13-telescope science reserve near the 14,000-foot summit, has acknowledged past missteps in stewardship at the sensitive site — but also points to solid evidence of adhering to a correction course now for almost two decades. 

One protest leader, Andre Perez, said protesters would be open to a truce extension as long as it is not tied to construction, which they view as desecration. If this intractable position represents overall protest sentiment, is further discussion even an option?

Also, contributing to the stalemate is the governor’s tepid stance, which so far has fallen short of demonstrating firm support for TMT construction. Just before July 10, Ige had vowed state and county law enforcement would deal with any potential obstacles facing TMT work crews. The upshot? About $15 million already spent on law enforcement operations to cope with TMT protests — which, for the most part, have looked more like a sitting service than enforcement of the law. On Tuesday, the state House approved a draft of the new state operating budget that cut more than $65 million in funding that Ige had requested for law enforcement operations tasked with managing disturbances, including TMT protests.

It’s likely that some of that unpalatable sum will be restored before the Legislature wraps up in May. But, lawmakers should attach to whatever public funds are allocated a condition requiring reasonable enforcement of the law — in the case of the TMT project, this means no longer allowing protesters to illegally block the access road. Several months ago, Kim released a proposal titled “The Heart of Aloha, A Way Forward on Maunakea,” which offered up a set of sensible proposals for compromise. All involved would be wise to take another look now, as it’s apparent that the best path forward for Hawaii requires give and take.

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