Saturday, May 30, 2015

TMT update: Governor of Hawaii gives a go ahead to Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea...

by Salman Hameed

Governor David Ige

Hawaii's governor, David Ige, has announced some new rules for Mauna Kea along with a go ahead to the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). He announced that some of the telescopes on the mountain to be decommissioned on the mountain. It is at least a nod to the protestors. Furthermore, he explicitly said that "we have failed the mountain" and pointed a finger at University of Hawaii for its poor stewardship. One important thing to note is that a state audit in the late 1990s was also scathing in its evaluation of university's management of the mountain. Here is more:
Ige said the university must make a commitment that there will be no more construction beyond the area where the Thirty Meter Telescope is planned for and called for at least one-fourth of the existing telescopes to be decommissioned by the time TMT is completed. He also wants the university to return all lands not needed for astronomy to the Department of Land and Natural Resources, which he said included more than 10,000 acres. 
The govenor also called on the university to revisit prior lease terms for the existing telescopes, and to explore whether greater payments were due. 
Ige plans to create a Mauna Kea Cultural Council that he said would add significant value in providing a cultural aspect to the management of the mountain. Supporting TMT would not be required for those who serve on the council, he said, adding that they would work with the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the governor’s office to make sure the host culture is respected in the future.
I think that the telescope closure proposal is still relatively modest but it may give him the necessary political breathing space. Some of the major opponents of the telescopes are still not convinced but we will see if Ige's announcement will break the momentum of the protestors. In the mean time, here is the reaction from one of the main TMT opponents:
Kealoha Pisciotta, a longtime Big Island critic of the Thirty Meter Telescope, said she's disappointed in Ige's comments, which she said lacked substance. "It created this illusion that we're going to do something without really doing much," she said, adding that his words will not prompt protesters to leave the mountain. 
"He affirmed that they will move forward," she said of telescope construction. "The deep sadness I feel is that means our people will be arrested."
In related news, charges against 10 of 31 anti-TMT protestors will be dropped. This again seems to be an action to assuage the protestors, but I'm surprised that it is not against all protestors, as the protests were peaceful:
Hawaii County’s top prosecutor said Friday he will dismiss charges against about 10 of the 31 protesters who were arrested while blocking construction of a giant telescope on a mountain held sacred by Native Hawaiians. 
Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth told The Associated Press he will drop the cases against those charged with trespassing, though his office might decide to re-file them later. 
The remaining people arrested last month were charged with obstruction of government operations.
And here is Pisciotta again along with one of the arrested protestors:
Kealoha Pisciotta, one of the Big Island leaders behind the effort to stop the telescope, said she’s happy to hear some of the cases will be dismissed. “Fundamentally and morally, how can it be trespassing in our house of worship and prayer?” she said. 
Kuuipo Freitas said being arrested for trespassing affected her “emotionally, spiritually, culturally.” 
“Honestly, I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t intend on getting arrested that day,” she said. “It really didn’t make sense to be arrested on our own aina (land).” 
It’s unclear if Freitas is among those whose trespassing charge will be dropped. Her attorney, Dexter Kaiama, who also represents eight others, declined to comment on specifics until a judge has signed off on the dismissals.
Here is a report from Nature about Governor's Ige plan for Mauna Kea:

Perhaps most significantly, “the university must decommission as many telescopes as possible, with one to begin this year and at least 25% of all telescopes gone by the time the TMT is ready for operation,” Ige said. The first to go will be the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, whose closure was announced in 2009; it will start to be dismantled later this year. 
But none of the other 12 telescopes had immediate plans to shutter. The submillimetre-wavelength James Clerk Maxwell Telescope is just beginning a new life under the operation of the East Asian Observatory. The 3.8-metre United Kingdom Infrared Telescope was similarly transferred from the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council to the University of Hawaii in Manoa last year. 
“This is all new to us,” says Peter Michaud, a spokesman for the Gemini Observatory based in Hilo, Hawaii. “Until we learn more about it, we’re not really able to say much of anything.” 
A 2010 plan commissioned by the university lays out a framework for how various observatories could be taken down. The governor's announcement is likely to accelerate those scenarios, says G√ľnter Hasinger, director of the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy in Manoa. “In principle this is nothing new,” he says. “We have always made the point that the space on top of the mountain should only be populated by the best telescopes.” 
... 
Ige’s changes all push toward reducing impact on the mountain’s 4,200-metre summit. The University of Hawaii leases more than 45 square kilometres as a science reserve. The current lease is good until the end of 2033, but Ige said that when that is up the university must return more than 40 square kilometres — all the land not needed for astronomy — to the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources. The university must also agree that the TMT location, which is a few hundred metres below the actual summit, is the last area on the mountain where any telescopes will ever be built.
Lets see how things shape in the coming weeks. Will keep you posted.

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