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Town hall sparks more discussion about Maunakea

Two student government entities hold event for a larger discussion

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Maunakea Town Hall

The five panelists consisted of those who support and oppose the TMT construction.

The construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope has been debated for the past couple of years and a recent event has sparked more conversation.

On March 1, students, faculty and others interested in Maunakea attended a Talk Story Town Hall at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. 

Presented by the Associated Students of the University of Hawai‘i and the Graduate Student Organization, the event served as a space to talk openly and ask questions about the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea.

The event had an informational panel of experts whose work relate to this topic.

Expectations laid out for the town hall included having respectful and civil discussions, staying content focused and asking questions after panelists had presented.

“Hopefully, I can lead our constituents in the right direction,” Andrew Simeona, vice president of ASUH, said. “This town hall event is not the end all be all when it comes to sharing information.”

Keeping the discussion going

Those in attendance consisted of supporters of the TMT and those who are against the idea.

On the panel was Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua, an associate professor in political science at UH Mānoa, who opposes the TMT.

Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua is a one of 145 UH faculty and staff members in a statement that opposes the project.

She discussed topics within that statement which include protecting individuals who have been arrested on the mountain, the funds that go into this project, opposition on the drafted administrative rules and protecting the land itself.

“I feel like there has not been enough dialogue, and there needs to be more spaces where we can talk about the issues,” Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua said.

Kahala Johnson, doctorate student in political science and certificate in American studies, feels that there is lack of support from the university in terms of protecting the kānaka maoli.

He attended the event in hopes of listening to what the Institute of Astronomy had to say alongside those in opposition to the telescope.

“As someone who traces themselves to the mountain as an ancestor and also as a political scientist, I see this issue as extremely important to kānaka of my generation and particularly for those at the university,” Johnson said.

On the other side of the spectrum, Greg Chun, Maunakea Management Board chair and senior advisor to UH President David Lassner, says that the university is going in the right direction with the project.

Although Chun says it is difficult to balance multiple values on the project, the university along with the broader community have to make these discussions more productive.

“If we’re going to solve some of the issues surrounding Maunakea and answering some of the hard questions, those conversations need to occur in systems and processes,” Chun said. “Those don’t exist right now, we have to create them.”

Status of the TMT

The university’s decision to continue the TMT project still stands, but UH is asking for public comment on the latest draft of the administrative rules for Maunakea. 

These rules set a tone for the management of the mountain along with guidelines to protect cultural, natural and scientific resources.

Public hearings were held during September 2018 across the state for the initial draft. Among the issues raised include Native Hawaiian rights and customary practices, limiting use of cell phones and flashlights on the mountain, requiring permits for large groups and allowing four-wheel drive vehicles above the mid-level facility.

UH plans to present a draft of the rules to the Board of Regents before holding their second round of public hearings scheduled in the first quarter of 2019.

The public has until March 15 to submit comments on the informal draft. According to Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua, a teach-in will be held on March 13 at the Campus Center Courtyard.