Inouye telescope builders will try another parts run

Builders of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope will try again to transport parts in a convoy of wide loads from Central Maui to the summit of Haleakala next week.

On June 24, an attempt to transport the “extremely wide loads” up the narrow winding Crater Road faced a vigil of about 200 protesters at the Central Maui Baseyard in Puunene and eventually was postponed.

Haleakala National Park announced Friday that Crater Road, Route 378, will be closed to visitor traffic from 6 p.m. Thursday to 2 p.m. Friday. The summit will not be accessible Thursday for sunset and Friday for sunrise viewing, and the Haleakala Visitor Center at the 9,740-foot elevation will be closed Friday.

The convoy will be traveling at 2 to 5 mph, the park service said. Although the telescope project is outside the park boundaries, the convoy has a special use permit to travel through the park.

Attempts to reach protest organizer Trinette Furtado by phone and email Friday were unsuccessful. She did post on her Facebook page Friday: “On my way to plan a stand for Haleakala this morning.”

The Haiku resident told The Maui News on the eve of the vigil last month that “there has been opposition to this telescope on Maui since the beginning. We thought we’d wait for it to go through the court and do it legally. They continue it anyway, just like they do with the TMT (Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island). It’s hewa (wrong), enough already.”

A citizens group, Kilakila ‘O Haleakala, challenged the $300 million telescope project in court in 2012, alleging that the state Board of Land and Natural Resources violated procedure when it issued the project a conservation district use permit. The high court heard oral arguments in April but has not yet made any formal ruling.

“We still believe and it is our understanding that we can use the roads,” said Joseph McMullin, project manager for the construction of the telescope, Friday.

Telescope officials have consulted with park service and public safety officials to ensure safe transport of the wide loads.

When asked about how the police would respond should there be a repeat of the protest, police spokesman Lt. William Juan replied in an email Friday: “We respect the right for people to demonstrate peacefully. We will respond in an appropriate manner.”

County spokesman Rod Antone echoed Juan, saying that “the bottom line is everyone’s free speech right is going to be respected.”

However, if protesters do something illegal, like stand in the middle of the street, they “will be taken into custody,” he said. This will be done not only for motorists’ sake but for the safety of the protesters as well, he said.

“Hopefully, they don’t protest in the middle of Mokulele (Highway),” he said.

McMullin indicated that telescope officials were caught off guard by the protest last month.

“We really thought there was support for the project,” he said. “I thought we really did have good relations with the people of Maui.”

He noted that the telescope has a Native Hawaiian working group and that the University of Hawaii Maui College recently announced Mitigation Initiative awards, provided by the National Science Foundation in response to the application to build the telescope. The goal of Ka Hikina O Ka La is to increase the participation of Native Hawaiians in higher education and in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the UH-Maui College website said.

McMullin said he tried three times to meet with the organizers of the protests during a visit to Maui about a week ago. He said “they were not interested in talking to me,” only to someone “who would shut the project down.”

There also may be some misunderstanding about the aims of the solar telescope, he said. McMullin said the telescope has no ties to the military and that the data collected will be accessible to everyone.

“The data from our observatory is a gift,” he said. “It will be doing a tremendous amount of good.”

The telescope, which will be world’s most powerful solar telescope, will allow astronomers to glean new insights into the sun and how it might affect the local and global environment, aviation operations and vital infrastructure, such as communication and weather satellites, telescope officials have said.

McMullin said he hopes things go better this time with the wide-load transport.

“We are talking more to the people, and we have a better understanding of what could potentially happen,” he said.

Due to the road closure, the park service said that back country permits will be available at the Headquarters Visitor Center at 7,000 feet of elevation from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Friday. However, backpackers planning to hike into the crater Friday are strongly urged to obtain their permits a day in advance.

Visitors who pay an entrance fee Wednesday, Thursday or Friday will have a one-day extension on the usual three-day pass. The extension will apply to both the Kipahulu and Summit districts.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.