The judicial veil draped over the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is now lifted with the findings and decision of contested case hearing officer Riki May Amano that the project should proceed.
The decision is now referred to the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) to determine next steps on Sept. 20. From my perch as an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, I observe three interlocking dimensions to the moving-forward equation.
First, there is the business of whether the ambitious 18-story-high TMT facility will survive this second-time-around scrutiny by the BLNR as meeting conservation district use criteria, given what I expect will be an emotion-charged public hearing process.
Second, there is the hot-button concern driven by Hawaiian opponents of TMT, who have successfully rallied thousands of supporters globally who cite the project as a disrespectful pursuit rife with cultural injury to the sacredness of Mauna Kea.
Third, there is the matter of the ticking clock imposed by the multinational TMT consortium of academic institutions and its need for a hurry-up process that yields "reasonable assurances" by this fall that construction can begin in April of 2018.
To the question of whether the TMT passes muster as an allowable use of conservation district land, I believe the BLNR cannot simply consider the TMT in a vacuum that ignores the 25-year history of expansion. The astronomy complex that crowns the mountain now houses 13 observatories sprawled across 500 acres, which is five times the size of Ala Moana Beach Park.
A decommission plan is long overdue that provides a time frame for deconstructing observatories as they become obsolete, so that there is a predictability to the shrinking of the footprint of the complex. I believe there are already at least two observatories that fall into the obsolete category.
The claim of cultural injury by opponents who cite any digging into the mountain as a cultural injury flies in the face of the well-documented historical record of land-use traditions.
Through the centuries Hawaiians repeatedly altered the Mauna Kea landscapes to build temple complexes, terrace massive acreages for food production, and dig deep into the mountainside to create quarries to access high-quality stone for tools.
Finally, the somewhat official ticking clock notification of a time-sensitive boundary driven by the consortium presents the highest level of vulnerability. Opponents will no doubt press the opportunity to bleed the time frame by exhausting every avenue of appeal so that the clock will run out and all arguments are rendered moot.
I join Hokule'a navigator Chad Baybayan in saying that the real cultural injury results from not supporting this global opportunity of the millennium to be a leader in the search for knowledge of the universe that would lead us to the night of Po, the beginning of the universe, from whence came our ancestors.