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Future of Solar Telescope Up in the Air

Public hearing discloses contention regarding proposed Advanced Technology Solar Telescope atop Haleakalā.

September 23, 2010
Cindy Schumacher

Michael Cain from the Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands (OCCL) hosted the meeting. OCCL is responsible for overseeing approximately two million acres of private and public lands that lie within the State Land Use Conservation District. Cain’s office processes Conservation District Use Applications, administers contested cases and rules on amendments.

“It is the goal of OCCL to balance the conservation of Hawai‘i’s unique and fragile natural resources with utilization of these resources for the good of the state,” said Cain. He noted that the deadline for all testimony is Jan. 6, 2011, after which, DLNR will make a final decision about the proposed Conservation District Use for ATST.

“Haleakalā is positioned to bring in a new era of discovery about the sun and the subtle ways it affects life on Earth,” said ATST Project Manager Jeremy Wagner, who is based in Tucson, Arizona. “To embark on this journey, we must observe the sun at higher spectral, spatial and temporal resolutions that ATST makes possible.”

Article Photos

The proposed Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST), the largest solar telescope in the world, is seen illustrated here atop Haleakalā (white structure on the left). According to Jeff Kuhn of the University of Hawai‘i Institute for Astronomy, “The ATST represents the largest jump in ground-based capabilities for understanding the sun since Galileo. It is needed to understand the basic mechanisms responsible for solar variability that ultimately affect human technology, humans in space, and terrestrial climate.”
Photo: Tom Kekona, KC Environmental

“We propose to build ATST on Haleakalā at a height of 9,980 feet,” added Wagner. “It will take about seven years to construct.”

Although NSF has completed a state and federal Environment Impact Statement (EIS) for ATST, some members of the Maui community passionately oppose construction of the telescope.

Kilakila ‘O Haleakalā President Kiope Raymond summed up how his group feels about the project with a quote from the late Ed Lindsey, a former board member: “Haleakalā is noted throughout Polynesia as one of the most sacred areas. There are stories, legends, events, but most importantly, prayers by generations of kāhuna. As many visitors can testify, there is a life force within these rocks that has influenced their lives. For the National Science Foundation and scientists to belittle this belief, they unknowingly contribute to the genocidal practice of wiping out the people of aloha.”

“We the people of the islands have rights secured on and for us,” said Joyclynn Costa, a Native Hawaiian. “If this project does not receive our consent and is told to be injurious to the people of the Nation of Hawai‘i, then there may be a human rights violation.” Believing that the observatory site belongs to the Hawaiian monarchy, Costa said, “There are certain limitations faced by the State of Hawai‘i as well as the federal government.”

The Friends of Haleakalā National Park fear the construction of ATST will intrude on all park activities and hinder mountain transportation.

“The consequences of ATST are bigger than the benefits,” According to the Sierra Club, Maui Chapter. “We don’t feel the project is abiding by the law. It is too huge and will disrupt a sacred and meaningful place.”

Both groups mentioned loss of wilderness, visual and noise pollution, and losses to populations of endangered species.

In contrast, the Maui Carpenter’s Union feels this is a good opportunity to give them a chance to get back to work and spread the income throughout the island.

Educators from around the island said ATST has inspired local students.

“We want students to enter the field of science,” said Kalama Intermediate School Vice-Principal Penrod Vladika. “Better instruments and the ethical application of science will benefit all mankind.”

“All residents will benefit from the scientific excellence that will come with ATST,” said Maui Economic Development Board President Jeanne Skog. “If the project conditions are met and requirements fulfilled, this project will bring more rewarding job opportunities and diversity to our economy. Technology jobs have grown on Maui and scientific youth programs are inspiring our youth and keeping them on island.”

In a statement issued to the Maui Weekly, Jeff Kuhn from the University of Hawai‘i Institute for Astronomy in Pukalani, added, “The NSF also executed a Programmatic Agreement under the National Historic Preservation Act to attempt to mitigate any potential impact on our Hawaiian host culture, which includes a $20 million public benefit package in coordination with the University of Hawai‘i Maui College.”

“Overall, I’m still on the fence about the project,” said Maui Astronomy Club President Rebecca Sydney. “I love science and studying the stars, but at what expense?” She hopes the “powers that be” create a win-win situation.



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