(BIVN) – An effort to continue astronomy on the summit of Mauna Kea for the next several decades, and how that effort might affect the Thirty Meter Telescope project, was discussed at the State Legislature recently.
During a January 24 joint State Senate committee briefing focused on the planned TMT observatory, Greg Chun – the senior advisor to the University of Hawaiʻi on all matters related to Mauna Kea – gave an update on the effort to secure a new land authorization to continue astronomy on the mountain.
“The university hopes to complete the [Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS] process by the summer of 2020,” Chun said. “Once the EIS process is completed – which means, accepted by the governor – the university can seek a new land authorization from the BLNR.”
Hilo State Senator Kai Kahele, who chaired the meeting, asked if the university is seeking a lease term of 55 or 65 years.
“I believe we left that open,” Chun said. “I’m not hundred percent sure but I think in some of the discussions it was 50 to 55 years, something like.”
“Potentially, the Thirty Meter [Telescope] will already have started construction by then?” Sen. Kahele asked. “Are you concerned at all of action number one – no land authorization – prior to starting construction?”
“Yeah, that’s always a concern,” Chun answered. “Astronomy on Mauna Kea, in our interpretation, has been a long-standing state policy and so it continues to be our working assumption that a new land authorization will continue. I think that’s the position that we have to assume at this at this point, and if there is a change to that, that’s obviously a broader discussion… that’s not just the university’s decision. That a broader discussion involving a number of different branches of government, community, and agencies.”
Sen. Kahele asked Chun if he has idea what the TMT timeline is for construction, wondering “is it possible for them to start construction once the governor accepts an EIS and we can secure a long-term lease for the summit?”
“I don’t have an idea of what their timeline is,” Chun said.
“We just want to ensure this project is successful and put in position for success,” Kahele said.
“You know this whole process,” asked Senator Clarence Nishihara, “is it pretty much driven by the TMT people, not by the university, not by other local entities? Is pretty much their show, to tell you when they might do it, when they can’t do it? Is it pretty much, all the cards are held by them?”
“No,” answered Chun. “Astronomy on Mauna Kea is important to the University way beyond TMT. Not only do we have a lot invested, but there is a tremendous future that we envision that astronomy can provide the state. I have not seen [TMT] driving the bus here. That’s not been my experience.”
“Would the university to be able to request that TMT wait to start construction prior to the finalization of the EIS and approval by the governor,” asked Sen. Kahele. “And the land board long-term lease? Is that unreasonable to ask?”
“I think it would be put the university in a very difficult legal position given the approvals that they have secured,” Chun said.
Chun said the university is also “seeking input on an executive order or others kinds of potential transfers,” aside from a BLNR lease.
“The university doesn’t have to have master lease for us to continue astronomy at Mauna Kea,” Kahele commented. “The land board has well within their legal authority to issue it directly to TMT and every other one of the telescopes up there.”