Haleakala Telescope Also Disputed in Protracted Contested Case Hearing

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In addition to the contested case hearing over the Thirty Meter Telescope, this past summer saw another hearing, over another telescope – this one proposed for Haleakala.

As with the TMT case, the contested case hearing over the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST) involved the University of Hawai`i applying for a Conservation District Use Permit on behalf of the party that would actually build the telescope, which in the case of the ATST is the National Solar Observatory, funded by the National Science Foundation.

Many of the same issues presented themselves as well, such as infringement on Native Hawaiian rights and disruption of viewplanes.

But there are also significant differences between the projects and the way in which the issues have been addressed.

Most significant, perhaps, is the fact that the groups and individuals opposing the telescope’s construction joined forces in one umbrella organization, Kilakila `o Haleakala (Hawaiian for “Majestic Is Haleakala”), a group incorporated in 2006 for the purpose of educating the public about the ATST. During the contested case hearing, it was represented by attorneys with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation (David Kimo Frankel, Sharla Ann Manley, and Camille Kamalie Kalama).

As a result, the controversies were better framed, if no less impassioned.

The Project

The ATST was approved by the Board of Land and Natural Resources on December 1, 2010, and the Conservation District Use Permit was issued just a day later. The project includes the dome structure (143 feet high, 84 feet wide) housing the four-meter telescope, a support and operations building; a utility building linked to the telescope by an underground utility tunnel; and parking. Total cost to design and build the telescope is estimated at around $300 million. Construction is estimated to take between six and seven years.

Although near the summit of Haleakala, the proposed telescope site is in the general subzone of the Conservation District, on part of an 18.166-acre parcel transferred to the University of Hawai`i by executive order in 1961, for scientific purposes. Access to the entire so-called “science city” complex of observatories is restricted to authorized personnel and Native Hawaiians wishing to exercise their traditional and customary practices.

The observatory would be visible from the visitors center at Haleakala National Park. Unlike the TMT, which would be built on a site some 500 feet below the elevation of existing observatories on Mauna Kea, the ATST would be on a higher elevation than the 117-foot-tall Advanced Electro-Optical System (AEOS) telescope, which is part of the Department of Defense’s Maui Space Surveillance System complex. It would also be higher than the highest point of Haleakala, Pu`u `Ula`ala.


The university has attempted to get buy-in from the community in general, and Hawaiians in particular, by having the National Science Foundation agree to give Maui Community College $2 million a year for ten years to support an educational initiative intended to “address the intersection of traditional Hawaiian culture and science.” In January, Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell was contracted by the NSO to provide cultural monitoring services and serve as the project’s cultural specialist.

The ATST has signed an incidental take permit and has agreed to conservation measures to protect two endangered species, the `ua`u (Hawaiian petrel, Pterodoma phaeopygia sandwichensis) and the nene (Hawaiian goose, Branta sandvicensis). An ungulate-proof fence is to be built, to connect with that around Haleakala National Park. The ATST is to initiate long-term predator control of rats and mongooses, which is another measure to protect the ground-nesting birds, undertake a monitoring and reporting program on petrels and geese, and install traffic-calming measures on roadways to reduce vehicle strikes on nene. The ATST has also agreed to begin a program to propagate and outplant silverswords on state land.

Kilakila `o Haleakala disputed the impact and adequacy of the proposed mitigation measures. In its proposed findings of fact, it stated that there was no nexus between, on the one hand, the harm done to a cultural site and to the ability of Hawaiians to exercise their traditional practices there, and, on the other, the measures proposed, including the cultural monitor, “sense of place” training, and renaming of roads within the science city complex, among other things.

Next Steps

The hearing officer in the contested case, Steven Jacobson, has had the proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and decision and order from the parties to the case since September. In an article published in the journal Nature on October 13, Jacobson stated that he would hand in his recommendation “next week.”

In early December, Jacobson told Environment Hawai`i that he would issue his recommendation “soon.”

Patricia Tummons

Volume 22, Number 7 — January 2012

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