My Turn: Kona-Kohala Chamber supports astronomy industry on Maunakea

The Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce is a nonprofit organization with over 500 member businesses and organizations in the Kona and Kohala districts on the west side of the island of Hawaii. Since 1968, our organization has existed to provide a strong united voice dedicated to strengthening our local economy and promoting our community. We stand together in support of astronomy, science, culture and environmental stewardship of Maunakea.

We place our trust in government with an expectation that the rule of law will be enforced. For the existing astronomy industry on Maunakea, normal operations must resume and people must be assured safe access on public roads to their place of work. For the Thirty Meter Telescope, we expect the State of Hawaii and County of Hawaii to provide safe passage for permitted construction to begin.

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We must ensure the development of TMT and the continuation of the astronomy industry on Maunakea. Losing TMT would be more than the loss of a major Hawaii telescope, it would be the loss of opportunity for Hawaii’s future generations. It’s in the State of Hawaii and County of Hawaii’s best interest to continue to support TMT and the entire astronomy sector in Hawaii.

Hawaii’s astronomy sector provides needed economic diversity with a statewide impact of $167 million. Astronomy activities generate over $52 million in earnings, over $8 million in state taxes and 1,400 jobs statewide. During the construction phase, TMT will create 300 local and specialized construction jobs and once the telescope is complete, employ 140 staff. TMT’s commitment is to fill these positions with as many Hawaii residents as possible and use local businesses for support services.

Currently, the astronomy industry atop Maunakea has over $1 billion in infrastructure and TMT will add another $1.4 billion along with annual observatory operational expenses of $26 million. In addition, TMT’s annual lease will incrementally expand from $300,000 to $1 million when operational. Eighty percent of these funds go to support stewardship of Maunakea’s resources by the Office of Maunakea Management and 20 percent to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for the benefit of the native Hawaiian population that it serves.

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Hawaii’s business community stands together in support of the astronomy industry and development of TMT on Maunakea. The State of Hawaii and County of Hawaii must act now to enforce the law on Maunakea Access Road so observatory operations may resume to normal levels and TMT construction can begin.

Wendy Laros is the executive director of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce.