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University of Hawaii to proceed with teaching telescope

HILO (AP) — The University of Hawaii plans to proceed with construction of a teaching telescope on the state’s highest mountain despite mixed reaction from the public.

The university plans to erect the telescope at Halepohaku, a mid-level facility on Mauna Kea, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Monday.

The university’s Office of Maunakea Management conducted a “virtual open house” in October with information about the project while soliciting public input.

Jared Chang, a planner for Honolulu consulting firm SSFM International, said 355 comments were submitted — with 212 opposing the proposal, 139 expressing support and four that were neutral.

The majority of opposition concerned the proposed location, with some comments acknowledging the value of the university’s teaching telescope while adding that the location was not acceptable.

“Most who opposed the project basically said the same thing: They would like no more development anywhere on Mauna Kea,” Chang said.

Other common sentiments among the negative comments included concerns about environmental impacts, feelings of distrust toward the university and a perception the school has mismanaged the leased lands on the mountain, Chang said.

University of Hawaii-Hilo Chancellor Bonnie Irwin said the university Board of Regents requested community outreach and consultation before moving ahead with the project.

“We feel that we have now done that, and so we will continue down the road of trying to do this, which will include applying for the (environmental assessment),” Irwin said.

The university bought the 28-inch telescope and observatory components in 2016 cost for about $400,000.

The site at 9,200 feet elevation would include a fiberglass dome with a diameter of 18 feet enclosing the telescope and a platform.

Halepohaku’s convenience for researchers, low light pollution and good weather make the site ideal, officials said.

The project would coincide with plans to decommission the university’s existing Hoku Kea observatory site on Mauna Kea, along with two other summit observatories.

The Halepohaku telescope would be significantly smaller than the stalled Thirty Meter Telescope project, which sparked a protest lasting months.

Opponents said the giant telescope project would desecrate land considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians. Demonstrators blocked the 6.27-mile access road to Mauna Kea’s summit from July through December 2019.

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