PUKALANI - The federal government's Advanced Technology Solar Telescope is most likely coming to Haleakala, but whether Native Hawaiian groups want to - or should - participate in its establishment was a subject for debate Tuesday afternoon.
The National Science Foundation officially selected a half-acre site within the University of Hawaii-managed Science City telescope complex about two weeks ago for the estimated $300 million project. The federal agency has already spent a decade and about $23 million planning a 143-foot-tall telescope to study the sun and its potential impacts on Earth and human technology.
On Tuesday, Caroline Blanco, assistant general counsel to the National Science Foundation, invited a number of Native Hawaiian groups to join a working group with a binding legal "programmatic agreement" in order to help manage the area to ensure that the agency uses the "best practices" to protect the sacred site's cultural, religious and archaeological resources.
The Maui News / CHRIS HAMILTON photo
National Science Foundation attorney Caroline Blanco invites Native Hawaiian leaders to join a working group to oversee some cultural elements to the planned $300 million advanced technology solar telescope near the Haleakala summit.
About 35 people attended the meeting at the UH Institute for Astronomy's Maikalani Advanced Technology Research Center in Pukalani. Most of those who spoke said they were against the telescope project, and several worried aloud that becoming part of the working group meant that they would be implicitly supporting the highly controversial project.
Clare Apana of Wailuku appeared to sum up the feelings of many people in attendance, judging by the number of heads nodding in agreement, when she said that the environmental impact statement was flawed, the people felt railroaded and this is just "a formality." Apana said that if the foundation were sincere, it should halt the process and start over with real Native Hawaiian input.
"To be honest with you, that's not going to happen," Blanco said.
She said that, at this point, she is looking for the best way to gather input on items such as retaining a cultural specialist, naming roads, and creating cultural sensitivity training and exterior design motifs. The next meeting was tentatively scheduled for Feb. 19.
Jason Jeremiah of the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs said OHA would be interested in joining the working group.
"For the record, so far everyone on Maui is against the project," said Native Hawaiian activist Foster Ampong.
Kahu Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. reiterated that the telescope is extremely disrespectful to the Hawaiian culture, calling it a "monstrosity." However, he also acknowledged that there may be people who support it for the jobs.
Still, construction is expected to begin in fall 2010, last up to seven years, and provide dozens of construction jobs and full-time employment at the telescope. The funding also includes $2 million a year for 10 years for Maui Community College for a science and astronomy education program in the form of internships and work force training.
Maxwell, who's been part of similar processes in the past, asked what if the Native Hawaiians don't participate in the working group.
Blanco told him that nonparticipation would not invalidate the foundation's decision to fund the project or the programmatic agreement.
"Is this a done deal?" Maxwell asked. "So this is a done deal."
A few others accused the federal government of just going through the motions and repeating unfair past practices.
Blanco pledged to go to whatever lengths possible to assist the Native Hawaiian groups, within the legal framework afforded her.
Maxwell and others then told Blanco that the Native Hawaiian groups at the very least need more time to get together, contemplate and discuss the project before "fleshing out" any recommendations - if they decide to do that.
The state Board of Land and Natural Resources still needs to vote on a conservation district use permit for the project to move ahead. A decision is expected in the next few months.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.