by Debbie Ward

As Sierra Club members know, we have spent many years working to ensure that the natural and cultural resources of Mauna Kea are protected. Members have offered testimony, served on committees, conducted research, written letters, consulted in legislative audits, participated in contested case hearing and successful litigation, and more, over the past thirty years. While some conditions have improved, the expansion of industrialization in the conservation district continues apace.

On the last Friday in February, the Board of Land and Natural Resources approved a permit for the eighteen story Thirty Meter Telescope on the northern plateau, in spite of requests for a contested case hearing on the application. The Sierra Club joined others in calling for the hearing because due process on the comprehensive management plan (CMP) is still in contest; the Sierra Club is a party to a contested case request being considered by the Intermediate Court of Appeals, and we fully expect that the CMP hearing will expose the deficiencies and inconsistencies of the plan, and offer information not considered. The Board ordered that the hearing be conducted by a hearing officer, and we will keep you informed.


by Nelson Ho

Recent actions of the University of Hawai`i have proved troubling to management of the summit. The UH appointed Mauna Kea Management Board is supposed to represent the public’s interest, but has been acting like the classic fox guarding the hen house. Their decisions continue to increase the bad land use practices that generated this thirty-five year history of bad policy and land use mismanagement.

To attract the University of California and Cal Tech Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), the University of Hawai`i system will stand in for the developer, defend defective logic in their EIS, and pay for the cost of defending the TMT proposal with Hawai`i taxpayer dollars.


  • If built, the TMT proposal will add to the significant, adverse and substantial impacts to the cultural and natural resources of Mauna Kea.
  • The TMT proposal would permanently alter an undeveloped portion of the northern plateau.
  • The TMT proposal would unleash a whole new era of summit development, allowing even larger telescopes of 50 or 100 meters in size.
  • TMT approval will set up a paradigm whereby piece-meal cultural and natural resource protections happen only when the development continues.
  • UC and Cal Tech hope to break the 1968 Science Reserve lease because they want assurances that TMT can operate beyond 2033. These alterations of the lease will set a dangerous precedent for the mountain.
  • The TMT project significantly erodes the value of environmental review by diminishing the criteria for assessing the significance of adverse impacts and their potential for halting or fundamentally altering a proposal.
  • TMT’s attempt to substitute a “community benefits package” for payment of fair market lease rents (as required by law) significantly harms community efforts to address longstanding lease rent inequities in the use of conservation lands for observatories without just, proper and legal compensation

Stay tuned; the UH Board of Regents is now poised to affirm these actions and begin the Conservation District Use Permit process.


by Nelson Ho

Sierra Club has long been a voice against the land mismanagement that is turning the summit of Mauna Kea into a private industrial preserve.  Now Sierra Club’s ability to defend the threatened Hawai`i environment is imperiled due to DLNR and UH tactics.

Mauna Kea still lacks environmental and cultural protections since the University promised to take care of those things in the 1983-85 Master Plan.

For the past two years the University has put forth their versions of a Comprehensive Management Plan for Mauna Kea called for in the DLNR regulations.  The DLNR, strapped for resources and with strong political pressure from the University and Governor, has caved in and is rubber stamping this document.

It has been left to the environmental and cultural practitioner communities to speak up for the lawful process and the ability of the public to intervene in a meaningful way in these agency actions.

The danger to Mauna Kea has mounted as the latest tactic by the State has unfolded.  Take away the public’s and Sierra Club’s voice and ability to participate in those important agency actions.  Take away the right to have contested case hearings on important DLNR land decisions.  Sierra Club is looking for funds to challenge this in court.  Please assist.

For further information contact Nelson Ho (nho.hoku@gmail.com) or Deborah Ward (dward@hawaii.edu), Co-Chairs of the Mauna Kea Issues Committee for the Hawai`i Chapter.


By Nelson Ho and Deborah Ward, CoChairs, Mauna Kea Issues Committee, Hawai`i Chapter, Sierra Club

This is not a matter of being for or against Astronomy and Science. It is a matter of adhering to the law, proper land management and correcting forty years of mistakes. Issues raised by Sierra Club, Hawaiians and residents since the 60s are still festering. The State Legislative Auditor found the cultural and natural resources of Mauna Kea have suffered at the expense of unregulated astronomy development.

The University of California and the California Institute of Technology (UC-CalTech) are institutions with a sullied past. They lost legal battles arising from the proposal to build six (6) Keck Outrigger Telescopes, beginning in 1995. The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory has an unlined cesspool on the summit, despite repeated kupunas’ requests that it be converted to a septic tank for cultural sensitivity. It was built with no federal EIS. UC-Caltech attempted to count the two Kecks, largest in the world when built, as one by connecting them with a building.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources has a non-transferable fiduciary duty to protect Native Hawaiian rights and resources. DLNR has no money to conduct the court-ordered comprehensive management plan (CMP). They must fix this funding problem first. One way would be to end the $1.00 per year lease for Great Britain, Japan, Canada, France, NASA, Smithsonian Institution and UC-Caltech. The Supreme Court of Hawai`i has instructed all state agencies to fulfill their duty, prohibiting delegation of their duties to a sub-entity like the University of Hawai`i or a third party like Ku`iwalu, which is now attempting to write the UH version of the CMP.

Providing scholarships will not offset the actual adverse impacts on the natural and cultural resources the TMT would create. Off-site mitigation, such as scholarships, will not suffice. Besides, they have been offered before and not delivered.

In 2003, a federal lawsuit involving UC-Caltech and NASA compelled NASA to complete the first EIS ever conducted on Mauna Kea since 1968. They found that “the cumulative impact of 30 years of astronomy development has resulted in significant, adverse and substantial impact to the cultural and natural resources of Mauna Kea.” Correct the problems. Do not build the TMT on them.


By Debbie Ward

A stunning blow was dealt to the DLNR and the University of Hawai`i last month when Judge Glenn Hara ruled in favor of Sierra Club and others that Mauna Kea deserves comprehensive management to conserve, protect and preserve the resource.

When BLNR approved the construction of the outrigger telescopes following lengthy contested case hearings through 2003-2004, Sierra Club, Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, the Royal Order of Kamehameha I, and Clarence Ching sought the pro bono assistance of attorney Lea Hong and Dexter Keeaumoku Kaiama to guide us through an appeal to the Third District Court. Our position was that the project “management plan” was not comprehensive, and did not cover the entire summit of Mauna Kea, so the rights and resources of the people of Hawai`i remained at risk: hazardous and sewage waste contamination, candidate endangered species protection, public access and use, and the protection of Native Hawaiian traditional and customary rights and resources needed to be addressed.

The judge agreed and further found that NO BLNR-approved management plans allow for further astronomy development. Nelson Ho and Debbie Ward of Hilo invite interested members to get involved, to ensure protection of resources that are community based, incorporating multiple uses.


By Debbie Ward

Sierra Club members have long regarded the wild beauty, Pacific-wide view planes and cultural significance of Mauna Kea as one of the treasures Hawai`i must strive to protect. So, when the University requested a lease to build one telescope in the 60s, and then built five more without permits, our members joined hundreds at DLNR hearings in the early 80s to ask for a halt to telescope construction and a plan to manage the summit reserve. Hawaiian cultural practitioners pleaded with the Board to prevent further cultural and archaeological damage to the sacred summit of Kukahauula, the Pacific’s highest peak.
Instead, the BLNR allowed a limit on construction to eleven major and two minor telescopes, and approved a management plan with conditions that included baseline biological surveys and monitoring. The University did not conduct the surveys and monitoring, nor did it follow the conditions to protect the resources. The most recent construction included a single telescope with twenty-four viewing units, including one emplaced on the side of Pu`u Poliahu, a particularly sacred site near the summit.
When the UH Institute for Astronomy, representing NASA and the University of California, came to DLNR with a request for further expansion, beyond the limits established by the Board, and without a management plan, Sierra Club members stepped up to ask for a contested case hearing. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) also stepped up, and prevailed in Federal court, leading to the completion of the first environmental impact statement ever conducted in this sensitive habitat. The EIS found that In conclusion, the overall cumulative impact of past, present and reasonable foreseeable activities is substantial, adverse and significant. Despite the cumulative damage already inflicted on the natural and cultural resources of the summit, the BLNR ignored both this finding and its own administrative procedures, allowing plans for constructing four to six more telescopes to proceed. Sierra Club, in association with Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, and Royal Order of Kamehameha I, together with Clarence Ching, a cultural practitioner, appealed the decision in the First Circuit Court in June. The judge has not yet rendered an opinion, but in early February NASA announced budget cuts that could mark the end of efforts to expand the Keck telescopes.
On the legislative front, in 2005 Sierra Club called for an audit of the management of Mauna Kea, and the Legislative Auditor’s report, released in December, concurred with our assertion that Mauna Kea’s fragile natural and cultural resources demand responsible stewardship by the University; and that improvements in management do not go far enough. The auditor found that it is essential that UH prepare a comprehensive natural and cultural resources management plan to establish a baseline of information and provide guidance toward protecting and enhancing critical habitats and sensitive cultural resources.
Further, we are calling for a financial audit of UH’s astronomy partners (including foreign and multinational subleases), who pay at most a nominal one dollar ($1.00) per year for the use of ceded land in the Conservation District. We believe that the University’s and BLNR’s negligence has caused serious deterioration of the summit wild natural habitats, and adequate funding is required to address thirty years of abuse and expansion of protections.
We are also asking the Legislature to consider the formation of an Independent Community Based Management Authority for the purpose of overseeing all aspects of the management of Mauna Kea, including protection of the Conservation District and further development. This body should include community representatives (i.e., recreational users, environmental and Native Hawaiian representatives chosen by the Hawai`i Island community) empowered to vote and fully participate in the decision-making process. The Authority should include respective government agencies responsible for protection of conservation districts and resources, as well as University representatives.
Thanks to a generous grant our hui was able to hire planners from the University of California at Berkeley to provide the decision makers with a professional assessment of the current situation, including the status of the baseline studies of all flora, fauna, hydrology and more. We hope that, in this way, we can clarify for all concerned parties the current status of the ecosystem, sacred landscape, conditions and use. We hope to soon present their preliminary data and findings.
If you would like to continue to be appraised of the legislative action, or would like further information about the Club’s position, please contact Debbie Ward, MLG ExCom Vice-Chair and Mauna Kea Issues Committee Co-Chair (966-7361) or at specialti450@aol.com.


By Dr. Gregory Brenner, Pacific Analytics – Natural Resource Consultants

I am a natural resource consultant who was asked to assist in the preparation of the EIS being produced by NASA for the Outrigger Telescope project. I have a PhD in entomology and a Master’s degree in statistics, and have been providing natural resource consulting services for more than fifteen years. I was the lead government scientist during the 1997/98 arthropod assessment of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve, and was hired by the Bishop Museum to compile and analyze the data, and to prepare the final reports for that assessment. I lived on the Big Island for five years studying the ecology of native Hawaiian arthropods. I have been studying the high altitude ecosystem on Mauna Kea since 1997 and have been monitoring Wekiu bug populations quarterly for the past three years.

While we all have our biases, of which we often are not even aware, I attempt to limit my own bias by relying on scientific data and remaining objective in my analyses. Many of my colleagues support my methods, but some may disapprove. I respect all their opinions. My motivation is a sincere desire to promote arthropod conservation, and I have dedicated my professional career to working toward that goal, both on the mainland and here in Hawai`i.

A recent article that appeared in the Spring Sierra Club Newsletter was critical of me and my participation in the Outrigger Telescope project. The project involves adding four to six 1.8 meter outrigger telescopes to the twin Keck 10-meter telescopes to enhance the scientific capabilities of this, the world’s largest telescope. When first proposed, the preliminary design for these outriggers involved the disturbance of a large amount of Wekiu bug habitat. I contacted the project managers and told them so, and offered my services to help them change the design to one that minimizes impacts to Wekiu bugs.

During the construction of previous projects on Mauna Kea few provisions were made for protecting the summit environment. The result was substantial damage to Wekiu bug habitat. Determined to prevent further harm, a team of scientists asked my help in making modifications that reduced the amount of habitat disturbance by almost ninety percent. In addition, recommendations made in my mitigation report were embraced by the project and incorporated into their plans. For the first time on Mauna Kea, specific procedures for protecting the natural resources have been included as part of a telescope permit application.

A commitment has been made by the Keck Observatory in both the permit application and in the Draft EIS (available at: http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/Outrigger/outrigger_index.html) to incorporate all of my recommended protection measures as provisions in all construction contracts, and to provide oversight of contractor activities to ensure compliance. Contractor and observatory activities will be monitored by independent, trained personnel to ensure compliance to the protection measures. In addition, Wekiu bugs and their habitat will be monitored during the construction and for ten years after to detect impacts. For that monitoring effort, I developed non-lethal Wekiu bug traps that cause only a two percent mortality, compared with one hundred percent mortality of traditional trapping methods.

Quarterly monitoring reports are already available to the public, and will continue to be, to make the process completely open to view. In addition, NASA has committed to funding a study of Wekiu bug ecology if the outrigger project is approved. Finally, an experimental process for habitat restoration will be tested that, if successful, will expand the amount of habitat available to this rare and unusual insect.

I believe my participation in this project has helped to ensure that appropriate protection measures will be implemented. It is the process of listening, discussing, explaining and evaluating in partnership with the astronomers that will result in implementing the environmental protection advocated for so many years.

Studying insects has given us a growing appreciation of their place in the ecology of our world. Astronomy has given us a new perspective our place in the universe. As astronomers make spectacular discoveries that bring us closer to a unified description of all creation – the origins of matter and life in the cosmos – they are also learning to protect the gifts of life Mother Nature has given us here on earth. I feel that the astronomers I have worked with have increased their awareness, and will protect the ecosystem on Mauna Kea while they build their tools to explore space.


By Deborah Ward and Nelson Ho

After more than a year of court battles, NASA officials announced November 5th that they will begin work next month on an environmental impact statement for the outrigger telescope project at the W. M. Keck Observatory.

The announcement was made jointly with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which had challenged a less-comprehensive NASA environmental assessment in federal court.

Officials estimated that the study could cost as much as $1 million. No comprehensive federal impact statement has ever been prepared for Mauna Kea to assess the overall cultural and environmental impacts of astronomy on Mauna Kea; and critics of the industrial development on the mountain say one is long overdue.

The EIS process will begin with public meetings in December and January. NASA aims to complete a draft statement in late May or early June and to finish the final document by fall.

* * *
There is still a critical need for a UH COMPREHENSIVE MANAGEMENT PLAN FOR THE WHOLE SUMMIT. It would also need to be approved by the BLNR. Sierra Club does not accept the flawed 2000 UH Master Plan, which had regurgitated data from 1985, and contained no cumulative impact study of thirty years of industrial development on the summit.
* * *

Sierra Club and Hawaiian petitioners have repeatedly pointed out the specific deficiencies in the UH documents, proposed artificial habitat plans and piecemeal mitigation measures, which lack funding and oversight. No management is intended by Keck after the facility is built. So as soon as construction ends, the monitoring ends. There is no funding promised for anything beyond the short term.
Sierra Club has pointed out that if the data is not monitored and analyzed, the University of Hawai`i could lose a species at risk, such as the wekiu bug, and miss the early fix opportunities.

* * *
As if nothing has happened, UH IfA and NASA, the National Science Foundation, Caltech, the University of California and the Smithsonian Institution are still beating the drum to build more telescopes on Mauna Kea.

The latest proposal is to locate the largest telescope in history on Mauna Kea. Its 98-foot mirror would have ten times the light-gathering ability of the twin 33-foot telescopes at the W. M. Keck Observatory, which are now the two largest optical/infrared telescopes in the world.
UH Institute for Astronomy has estimated that it would cost $700 million to build and $1 billion to operate over twenty years. It is estimated the telescope could be operational by 2012.
The UH Board of Regents’ 2000 Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan designated an approximate site for a “Next Generation Large Telescope” in the northern plateau area of Mauna Kea on a 36-acre site off the summit ridge. However, the master plan never won BLNR approval, and the only properly approved plan limits development to thirteen facilities. More major observatories are on Mauna Kea than on any other peak.


By Nelson Ho

Sierra Club members Deborah Ward and Nelson Ho were hard at work consulting with Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, Royal Order of Kamehameha I, Clarence Ching and Hank Fergerstrom to conclude the first contested case hearing regarding a Mauna Kea sited telescope. Conducted for several weeks before a representative of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, the quasi-judicial process revealed UH misrepresentations about their Management Plan for the summit and the UH Institute for Astronomy’s attempt to sneak in the flawed 2000 Master Plan for the summit without public hearings.

The testimonies of Dr. Frank Howarth and Dr. Fred Stone, noted wekiu bug researchers, showed that UH-IFA’s proposed mitigation plan for the small insect, a candidate endangered species, was untested, based on incorrect assumptions and potentially harmful. Instead of mitigating harm done by the University of California, Cal-Tech and NASA back a plan to create replacement habitat which may create a “death trap” that will actually harm the species.

Hawaiian testimonies revealed a history of UH-IFA’s management actions that resulted in Native Hawaiian traditional and customary practices that were marginalized or ignored, and that, even under the 2000 Master Plan (which BLNR has not approved), Native Hawaiian practices were threatened.

Also revealed was the fact that the environmental assessment (EA) relied upon by the UH-IFA was inadequate. It failed to adequately assess the cultural impacts of the Keck 6 Telescope Project and did not address or discuss significant cumulative impacts. That fact highlighted the UH continued resistance to overwhelming calls by the public (including the new Office of Mauna Kea Management) for the production of the first federal environmental impact statement for a summit astronomical project. For further information, contact Nelson Ho or a member of the Conservation Committee.