Monday, March 2, 2020

Telescope Developments (or lack thereof)

Mauna Kea decommissioning plan pushed back

Hawaii Star-Advertiser via UCOP Daily News Clips, Timothy Hurley, 3-1-20

The first two of five Mauna Kea telescopes planned to be decommissioned in exchange for development of the Thirty Meter Telescope are scheduled to be removed from the mountain by 2023, according to the latest plan outlined by officials with the University of Hawaii. The plan pushes back the targeted decommissioning deadline for the telescopes that was described in a resolution of the UH Board of Regents in November. According to that resolution, the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory and the UH-Hilo Hoku Kea teaching telescope were to be removed no later than Dec. 31, 2021. 

But while progress has been made in the extensive decommissioning process, the effort is going to take longer on both accounts, said Greg Chun, UH executive director of Mauna Kea stewardship. Meanwhile, the fate of the TMT continues to be murky as the $1.4 billion-plus pro­ject has been stalled by legal and regulatory hurdles and protests over the last five years. Although the current truce between the TMT and its opponents is tentatively set to conclude at the end of the month, the international consortium planning to develop the next-generation telescope has indicated it has no immediate plans to start construction and the ki‘ai “protectors” have vowed to once again guard Mauna Kea Access Road against construction vehicles.

Chun said the deconstruction and site restoration work for the Caltech observatory is set to begin next year and be completed by late 2022. The project, expected to be paid for by Caltech, will include the removal of the dome, outbuildings and related infrastructure along with the restoration of the site. The astronomical instruments have already been removed from the observatory. A draft environmental assessment under review by Caltech is expected to include technical surveys such as an environmental site study and hazardous materials evaluation.

The Hoku Kea’s deconstruction and site restoration is scheduled to begin in early 2023 and take about six months, Chun said. On Feb. 18 the Maunakea Management Board approved UH-Hilo’s formal notice of intent to decommission the telescope on the condition that the university proceed with planning and permitting for a replacement telescope. The process would include identifying a new location, possibly the Hale Pohaku mid-level facilities on Mauna Kea, he said.

Chun said the university is in the process of awarding a contract to identify a location and begin planning for the new teaching telescope, a facility that would be smaller than other telescopes at the summit. According to November’s resolution, a determination would be made on the decommissioning of the remaining three observatory sites on or by Dec. 30, 2025. Removing five current telescopes is a condition of the TMT’s conservation district use permit. Construction of the 18 story-tall telescope itself is expected to take at least 10 years.

State is seeking information about those who provided support to TMT protesters

Michael Brestovansky | Hawaii Tribune-Herald | Saturday, February 29, 2020

Lawyers for opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope filed a petition Friday seeking to reverse a January court decision that would allow the state attorney general to subpoena the financial records of a nonprofit providing funding for TMT protesters. In late January, the attorney general’s office was authorized by a state judge to subpoena the bank records of KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for environmental issues in Hawaii. Attorney General Clare Connors claimed that subpoena was warranted because KAHEA was supporting illegal protests by establishing a fund for the protesters on Maunakea, and had also misfiled financial statements.

On Friday, attorneys for a group of anonymous donors to KAHEA filed a petition to the Hawaii Supreme Court requesting that the court rescind the state’s order allowing Connors to subpoena KAHEA’s records, arguing that such a subpoena would reveal the donors’ identities and violate their rights to privacy. “From our clients’ perspective, it’s clear that this is an unwarranted attack on their privacy,” said one of the donors’ lawyers, Maui attorney Lance Collins. Collins said the attempted subpoena is a clear attempt to intimidate opponents state-supported projects, which sent state officers to clear the Maunakea Access Road last July after protesters blocked the road in protest of the construction of TMT.

“It’s not the first time a state has tried to do this,” Collins said, citing the 1958 Supreme Court Case NAACP v. Alabama, wherein the state of Alabama attempted to subpoena the records of the African-American civil rights organization NAACP, including a list of its members in Alabama. “It’s just a shame that the person trying to do it now is the Attorney General of Hawaii,” he said. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Alabama in 1958, citing the right to privacy of law-abiding citizens.

Connors also issued a subpoena to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for similar reasons in September, and also to Hawaiian Airlines to determine the identities of people who donated frequent flyer miles to protesters, although the latter subpoena was withdrawn. The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii issued a statement in January expressing concern that the attorney general’s office is abusing its power and that such actions have a “chilling effect on everyone’s rights.” Collins said the state Supreme Court can dismiss or deny the petition in the KAHEA case, or can allow it to go through, which will require both sides to attend hearings to resolve the issue. However, before that decision can be made, the court also needs to decide whether Connors or First Circuit Judge James Ashford, who approved the subpoena, should respond to it.

“Generally, I think it’s unconscionable,” said protest leader Noe Noe Wong-Wilson. “It just seems like a strange way to go about it.” Wong-Wilson said KAHEA has been very supportive of the anti-TMT protests in accordance to its mission of social justice for Native Hawaiians. The subpoena also corresponds with a bill currently passing through the state Senate that would block such investigations.

Senate Bill 42, which was introduced last year by Maui, Molokai and Lanai Sen. Kalani English, would prohibit the attorney general from conducting investigations “in connection with and under circumstances during a period of time in which it is clear that the attorney general’s goals are conflicted with native Hawaiian rights.” SB 42 has received passionate support and opposition, Wong-Wilson said, and has passed through at least one committee this legislative session.


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