The construction of the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope atop of Haleakala is under way, with crews transporting equipment through Haleakala National Park daily.
Plans call for taking seven years to finish the "hard construction" of the solar telescope, a joint project of the National Science Foundation and the University of Hawaii. Work includes hauling large telescope components to the project site.
"The transportation plan took about three years in estimating the time of construction," said site construction supervisor Brett Simison. "And again, its only an estimate. Construction, as everyone knows, can vary due to weather or problems with construction."
Haleakala National Park Superintendent Matt Brown said that construction activities and deliveries through Haleakala National Park would be confined to daylight hours between 30 minutes after sunrise and 30 minutes before sunset. Slow-moving vehicles and/or larger vehicles cannot travel through the park between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Large vehicles carry heavy, wide loads and sometimes require road closures, which was a particular problem for Simison and his team.
"We re-engineered our telescope in our enclosure to get the best fit and avoid road closures," said Simison. "Right now, an appreciable amount of those loads are a lot less than they were originally designed. And, due to our engineers going back and saying these are the limits, you have to fit within them, we were able to get a lot of our vehicles below the (Department of Transportation) limit for wide loads."
Brown said that he has been impressed with Simison and the solar telescope team and believes they understand the cultural significance of the national park.
The solar telescope team "has been very proactive in establishing a traffic management plan that schedules around the peak hours at the park," Brown said. "We've maintained regular communication with (the solar telescope team) and were able to finalize a draft of our commercial services plan with the transportation of the solar telescope materials."
The state Board of Land and Natural Resources remains concerned about the park's cultural resources and endangered species, but Brown said that the team has done a tremendous job in mitigating any adverse environmental impacts.
"We came to an agreement with all of the drivers concerning speed limits and inspections," said Brown. "Each vehicle needs to be thoroughly inspected for non-native species, such as foreign insects, so they don't endanger or harm the environment. From the vehicles that we've already inspected, the drivers have been very understanding to the concerns of the national park representatives."
Brown said solar telescope officials notify the park in advance about any delays that might occur because of unforeseen circumstances or extremely wide-load vehicles. Public service announcements will follow via a traffic advisories issued to The Maui News and other media outlets.
"There won't ever be a day where the park has to close because of the construction," said Brown. "It's been a very positive experience, and we anticipate it continuing into the future."
The federal government's solar telescope was first conceived in 1995, but the telescope's location was selected nearly 15 years later by National Science Foundation Director Arden Bement. Haleakala was selected to house the 143-foot-tall telescope and has since faced numerous legal battles from Native Hawaiian groups that maintain the planned structure would desecrate the cultural significance of Haleakala.
Last month, the land board reaffirmed its approval of a permit for the construction of the solar telescope, but it included a list of operational and building conditions at the behest of the Native Hawaiian groups.
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.