Construction of telescope ‘in limbo’ due to appeal process

An appeal pending before the Hawaii Supreme Court is holding up the start of construction on the $300 million Advanced Technology Solar Telescope, a joint project atop Haleakala by the University of Hawaii and the National Science Foundation.

And the delay is costing approximately $500,000 a month, according to university President M.R.C. Greenwood, who addressed the telescope project and a wide range of other issues Wednesday in an interview at The Maui News.

Kilakila O Haleakala, which objects to the ATST’s impacts to Haleakala’s cultural and environmental resources, has challenged the project in court. The high court heard oral arguments Dec. 20, according to an official in the office of Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald. There was no indication when a ruling would be issued.

Construction of the telescope designed to learn more about the sun’s effects on the Earth’s atmosphere and environment will not start as long as the case is pending before the Hawaii Supreme Court, Greenwood said.

“In the meantime, the contract is losing substantial money every month,” she said, explaining that she was told a “couple of months ago” that the loss amounted to $500,000 per month.

Greenwood noted that the university and the foundation already have hired “people to work on this. . . . It’s the standing army that’s necessary to pull off the project. . . . They haven’t been able to start construction.”

The state Supreme Court justices are aware that the project’s clock is ticking, she said.

“The Supreme Court is concerned with the law, not the economics of it,” she said. “It’s their schedule. It’s up to them how quickly they act.”

In November, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources affirmed its approval of a conservation district use permit for the project, finding that the proposed land use “considered together with all minimization and mitigation commitments” would “not cause substantial adverse impact to existing resources.”

Greenwood also addressed the status of the university’s contract, worth as much as $181 million over the last decade, to operate the Maui High Performance Computing Center in Kihei, one of six supercomputer centers run by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Last year, the university filed a bid protest with the federal government after losing the contract to McLean, Va.-based SAIC.

Greenwood said that the Air Force addressed the complaint in November, and “in light of the Air Force commitment to take corrective actions, our protest is rendered moot, and therefore it’s in limbo right now.”

While the contract protest is ongoing, the university is continuing to run the supercomputer center, she said.

“We haven’t lost the contract yet,” she said. “We are still managing Maui High Performance Computing while we await this action. We hope that they’ll end up selecting our team. We really have a very remarkable team of local and Mainland partners, so it’s not over yet.”

Greenwood declined to discuss details of the university’s protest. “It’s all held in confidence,” she said.

No matter what happens, she said, “we need to keep our relationship with the Maui High Performance Computing Center independent of who’s running it. That’s very important for the state.

“We would like to be the contractor, but these big federal defense contracts, they come up for renewal. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose.”

In The Maui News interview, Greenwood addressed other topics, including the University of Hawaii Maui College’s future offering of four-year degrees, the college’s role in workforce development, Maui’s place in the university’s Innovation Initiative and the impact on the university of the loss of U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who died Dec. 17.

Greenwood said that she foresees UH-Maui College continuing to offer four-year degrees tailored to fit Maui’s workforce needs. Her comments came shortly after the university, last month, opened its new $26 million science building.

(Maui College offers 49 programs, including three bachelor’s degrees and 19 associate degrees.)

The Kahului college’s course offerings should not be “duplicates of programs that already exist around the system and could be brought here by distance learning or various other methodologies,” she said.

Last year, the college graduated more than 100 students who studied on Maui but whose degrees came from other campuses in the UH system, she said.

The college’s future will be “sort of a hybrid model,” Greenwood said, offering some four-year and core programs here while some Maui students will take courses via distance learning from other campuses.

“So what we hope to do is make it possible for a pretty broad range of people here on Maui to get the degrees that they want,” she said. “It’s a question in some cases of resources and in other cases it’s a question of looking across the whole state of Hawaii and saying, ‘OK, we don’t need to build up another department of this. What we need to do is make that degree available. But what we should do is build up a department of something else here that is not offered anyplace else in the state so that it becomes a resource for other campuses as well.”

It makes good sense for UH-Maui College to focus on the island’s workforce needs, Greenwood said.

“I think every island should be working with the community it’s in to provide the best it can in that community,” she said. “However, you want to raise the aspirations of people for the jobs they may have throughout the state. . . . But in a state of 1.3 million people you cannot have 10 full campuses. That would be not a very good use of public resources.

“But what you can do if you work together as a system is that you can make it possible for anybody who wants to get a degree in any of a number of places in Hawaii to be able to do that,” she said.

Greenwood has been speaking to groups statewide, including a recent presentation hosted by the Maui Economic Development Board, about the university’s Innovation Initiative. It is aimed at turning university research into an “economic fuel cell,” generating jobs and business in the islands.

Greenwood said that she wants to expand Hawaii’s research industry from $500 million per year to $1 billion, which she believes is possible based on the success of San Diego.

San Diego has a similar economy to Hawaii’s, based in tourism, the military and government.

Approximately 14 percent of San Diego’s economy comes from research and technology, compared with only 3 percent in Hawaii.

“Growing this sector is good for the overall economy and job generation as well,” Greenwood said, noting that research and technology jobs create another 1.7 jobs in the local economy.

Greenwood has said that the goals of Hawaii’s Innovation Initiative is to expand research and technology in the state by building on areas of strength such as astronomy, space, ocean, earth and health sciences while building excellence in areas such as clean energy, new agriculture, cancer research and pharmacology. New areas for growth include cyber infrastructure; diabetes and obesity research; and infomatics, the science of managing and extracting data from massive data sets, which is needed in fields such as financial services, cybersecurity, astronomy, climate change and ocean science

The university requested a $5 million state appropriation this year to hire world-class researchers and get their work started but received $1 million in Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s proposed budget.

“It’s a start,” she said, adding that the university is reallocating some of its funding to support the initiative.

“It’s going to take us all,” she said. “It’s going to take state investment. It’s going to take university investment. It’s going to take federal investment. We all have to work together. If we don’t, we can’t do it.”

Greenwood said that UH-Maui College Chancellor Clyde Sakamoto’s interest has been sparked with the idea of locating a specialized research institute on aging here, modeled perhaps after the Buck Institute located in Novato, Calif., across the bay from San Francisco.

The institute opened in September 1999, the first research facility in the country to respond to the Institute of Medicine’s call for a research center focused on aging and age-related diseases.

Such a center would be valuable to the entire state but would be attached to UH-Maui College, she said.

UH-Maui College may not be a research university like UH-Manoa, but there have been “a lot of researchers located on Maui, with the telescopes (at Science City) and in agriculture,” Greenwood said.

“Building up research doesn’t mean that it’s done at just one campus,” she said. “People are actually doing their work in different locations, which then builds jobs in those locations. Then it creates the need for workforce development, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

On the loss of Inouye, Hawaii’s longtime senior U.S. senator who held a key position as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Greenwood said that Hawaii and the university would feel the state’s loss of senior senators in Congress, with the retirement of former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka.

While Inouye was able to get federal funds earmarked for the university to begin programs, the senator also sought over the past two decades to make the university less dependent on earmarked federal funding, she said.

“He weaned us away from that so that we were more and more getting the resources because of talent of the people we had and our ability to compete in the federal grant business,” Greenwood said. “So that now, even though he will be deeply missed, our scientists are probably capable of continuing to bring in a very strong, steady amount of research funds.”

The university will miss Inouye’s ability “to articulate for us his vision of the future,” Greenwood said. “He was a leader not only because he had power in the Senate on the Appropriations Committee. He was a leader because he truly understood what he was doing. And he truly understood the importance of the University of Hawaii to the state.”

Inouye’s legacy was that he “left us with a strong university, left us with a university that touches all of the state,” she said. “There’s going to be a void.”

However, Greenwood said that she has confidence in Hawaii’s current young congressional delegation.

“We have talented people in Washington,” she said. “They’re going to find their way as well, but we’re going to have to depend more on our wits that maybe we have in the past.”

* Brian Perry can be reached at