Hawaii News — Meeting Adjourned? Hundreds Testify at Regents’ Meetings

Jaysen Niedermeyer photo

Jaysen Niedermeyer photo

By Lara Hughes

Operation Green Rights, a faction of the international web hacktivist group Anonymous, had shut down the TMT website at press time, and the news of the hack blew up on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.  The Hawaii State Government’s website went down April 26 as well, but was back up by 5 p.m. the same day.   The message from the group taking responsibility was, “Nothing will ever justify the destruction of ecosystems; filthy money can never replace them.”

A protest was expected to occur in Pasadena, Calif, the home base of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) Astronomy, one of the partners seeking to build the $1 billion Thirty Meter telescope atop Mauna Kea. Other partners include the Association of Canadian Universities for Astronomy, University of California, the National Astronomical Observatory of China, the Department of Science and Technology of India, the Department of Atomic Energy of India, and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.

A special Board of Regents meeting held at the UH Hilo Campus on April 17 was called to discuss the management of Mauna Kea and the Mauna Kea Science Reserve.

Overall, 1,010 written comments in opposition and 28 in favor of the Thirty Meter Telescope were submitted and 120 people signed up to testify in person.  Only 61 people were able to speak due to time constraints, however.

The BOR meeting was standing room only in the largest lecture hall at UH Hilo.  Many of the people who had waited outside for the doors to open at 11:30 a.m., were turned away for lack of seats. Some of the people who had signed up to speak had to be called in from outside.  The meeting was called to order amid chants of “Ku kia’i mauna,” or “to stand and defend the mountain” from outside the lecture hall.

On April 26, there was a follow-up Board of Regents meeting.  It ran from 11:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. and was held in the Performing Arts Center at UH Hilo to accommodate more people.   In those four and a half hours, many people were able to testify, but some were not.  At 4 p.m. there was no longer quorum among the regents, so the board could not even officially adjourn the meeting.  A student seeking her master’s degree at UH Hilo was next in line when the audience was told that they had run out of time.  She did not get a chance to speak, but was instructed to send her testimony to Board Chair Randolph Moore’s personal email.  The student was assured that her testimony would be read by the board.

Activist Lanakila Mangauil was also in attendance.  Mangauil was the first to speak at the first Board of Regents meeting earlier in April.  He had opened by saying, “Aloha kakahiaka kakou,” and the room had then returned his greeting with an elongated, “Aloha.” He spoke about growing up on the slopes of Mauna Kea and the, “immeasurable spiritual connection of many of the people of this land to this mountain.”  He had also spoke about an oil spill that occurred, “within the first four hours of construction,” on Mauna Kea.

The 28 year old had protested a TMT groundbreaking ceremony in October 2014, and, since then, has been a key player in what he calls, “The protection of Mauna a Wakea.”

Mangauil spoke of the altars, burials and the stones that were erected by the ancient Hawaiians to show star alignments, and how many of these sites have been “desecrated” in recent years due to construction.

There have been contested case hearings regarding Mauna Kea and the telescopes atop of the mountain for the last seven years.  “Seven years ago I was just coming out of high school,” Mangauil noted.  “A lot of us were young and you’re talking about a generation that has gone through so much hardship, it doesn’t have a lot of faith in the judicial system.   Public forums were held on odd times and odd days, changing places last minute.  A lot of people just didn’t know.  People are overburdened.”

Mangauil feels that social media has played a tremendous role in helping people to come together and have their voices be heard.

Many people gave public speeches at the two Board of Regents meetings.  Jorji Akiona Oden thanked the regents for coming before saying, “We aren’t anti-science, by all means, we are far from that.  Look at Hokule’a.”  Oden was more focused on the idea that “One (observatory) was not enough, two was not enough… you guys (want) more and more and more.  When is it gonna be enough?”

Mark Chan, an astronomer, was one of few people to speak in favor of the Thirty Meter Telescope.  He talked about how the telescope would be the most advanced in the world and how Mauna Kea is, “the gold standard,” when it comes to astronomy.  Chan also pointed out, “To see the impact, we need look no further than our cell phones and cameras inside our cell phones that we use to record our daily lives and tweet our events.  These detectors have heritage in the scientific electronic devices that we use in astronomy. […] In fact, different counterparts of these devices are referred to as the Hawaii Rays because of the pioneering work that has been done on Mauna Kea.”

Cyrus Koaokalani Johnasen cited the Hawaii Administrative Rules Title 13-284-6 Section B of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.  This states that, a historic property, once it is identified, should then be assessed of its significance.

To be significant, a historic property shall possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association [and]have an important value to the native Hawaiian people or to another ethnic group of the state due to associations with cultural practices once carried out, or still carried out, at the property or due to associations with traditional beliefs, events or oral accounts–these associations being important to the group’s history and cultural identity.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources states that, “The review process is designed to identify significant historic properties in project areas and then to develop and execute plans to handle impacts to the significant historic properties in the public interest.”

One couple, Ana and Albert Kaho’opi’i testified that they have even pulled their son out of college at UH Hilo because they feel that the university is not respecting their culture and beliefs.  Albert Kaho’opi’i also works for Goodfellow Bros., a construction company contracted to carry out development on Mauna Kea.  He said, “I support the occupation of Mauna Kea (by protesters of TMT).  Goodfellow’s not a bad company, between all the other local brothers supporting their families.  I felt led to speak out.”

Up-and-coming Hollywood star, Jason Momoa had a testimony presented for him in opposition to the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, calling for the “permanent shutdown of the TMT on Mauna Kea.” Momoa is Hawaiian by descent.

There was a speech given almost entirely in Hawaiian and at one point everyone in the room stood and joined hands and began singing “Hawaii Aloha.”

Cameron Wipper, a UH Hilo alumnus who graduated in December with degrees in science and astronomy, did not testify at the Board of Regents meeting.  Wipper works for two observatories on Mauna Kea and the Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii.  He is in support of the Thirty Meter Telescope project because he believes “it is the next step, the next generation of telescopes.  Essentially, there is nowhere else in the Northern Hemisphere.  Chile is in the Southern Hemisphere and you can not see the same sky.”

Asked what he thought about the public testimony, he said, “I guess my reaction was essentially that the concerns are not unknown in the astronomy community.  Everyone is very aware of the concerns of the Native Hawaiians.”, “It’s a difficult situation for everyone to be in,” Wipper said.  “Mauna Kea is one of my favorite places on Earth and I would do my utmost to protect the environment on Mauna Kea.  Every night I get to spend on Mauna Kea is a privilege to be up there.  It is significant to everyone.”

Lara Hughes was raised in Ka’u.  She graduated from Konawaena High School, before spending seven years in living and working in Italy.  Lara now attends University of Hawaii Hilo, and serves as the editor in chief of the student newspaper, Ke Kalahea. 


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