Mostly mum on Maunakea

  • Kahoohaki Kanuha and other TMT opponents block Maunakea Access Road. (Hollyn Johnson/Hawaii Tribune-Herald File Photo)

  • Dru Kanuha

KAILUA-KONA — For close to three months, Hawaii Island residents, as well as activists, celebrities, and politicians at all levels, have voiced their views on whether the Thirty Meter Telescope should be built on Maunakea.

While opinions on whether the state-of-the art telescope should be constructed atop a mountain some consider sacred are plenty, West Hawaii legislators, on the other hand, have been relatively mum.

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West Hawaii Today reached out to the leeward side’s state legislators over the course of two weeks — Sen. Dru Kanuha, D-Kona/Ka‘u; Rep. Richard Creagan, D-South Kona/Ka’u 5; Rep. Nicole Lowen, D-North Kona; and Rep. David Tarnas, D-North Kona/South and North Kohala — but only Tarnas offered his thoughts.

Tarnas said TMT “is a good project for our community, economy and science,” but the government needs to deal with long-term grievances brought forth by Native Hawaiians first.

Tarnas, who pointed out he doesn’t have a vote in the matter, said the issue of a telescope being built is just one piece of a larger picture.

“My view is I want everyone to be treated fairly under the law, including the Native Hawaiians and the Thirty Meter Telescope,” Tarnas said. “Yes, the TMT got all its permits to proceed, but this impasse is no longer just about the telescope.”

TMT has been in the national spotlight since July 15 due to protesters blocking Maunakea Access Road to stop the construction of the telescope near the mountain’s summit. The protesters, who also call themselves protectors, consider Maunakea to be sacred land.

“I think to gain support and to move ahead with the Thirty Meter Telescope, the state really has to earn the trust of those who are opposed to it, by addressing some of these long-standing issues raised by Native Hawaiian advocates — like improving management of Maunakea, funding Department of Hawaiian Homelands to build more homes for Hawaiians and reduce the wait list, and funding OHA (Office of Hawaiian Affairs) with their full, fair share of future land revenues.”

Tarnas said he wants to continue finding solutions to the problems facing Hawaiians.

“As a legislator, I don’t get to vote on TMT,” Tarnas said last week. “But, I am working to address these other major outstanding issues facing Native Hawaiians here in Hawaii that are underlying much of the opposition.”

Sen. Lorraine Inouye, D-North Hawaii, sent a letter to Gov. David Ige’s office on Aug. 19 asking Ige to move forward with TMT despite the protests.

The letter states that protesters blocking Maunakea Access Road are doing so illegally, and that “laws must be followed, all laws, all the time.”

“TMT has gone through unprecedented review. Hawaiian, cultural, archaeological, educational, recreational and environmental specialists were consulted at each step,” the letter states. “TMT has committed to significant cultural and environmental protections and community benefits, and the process has been thoroughly reviewed and approved by the state Supreme Court. TMT deserves to build.”

Gov. David Ige has received flack from the public for his handling of TMT and the protesters. A poll conducted by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and published Sept. 25 found only 35% of Hawaii residents approve Ige’s job performance. Of Native Hawaiians polled, 74% said they disapprove of Ige’s job performance.

Ige was re-elected as governor last November. In the Democratic primaries, he defeated Colleen Hanabusa with 51.4% of the vote.

During the campaign, Hanabusa stated her support for building TMT, but similar to Tarnas, recognized the issue has not been handled in the best way.

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“TMT is something I support,” she told West Hawaii Today at the time. “However, I do not support the way (UH) has executed it and their failure to do what they should have done along the way. … I do not believe UH did a good job in terms of being a steward.”

West Hawaii Today reached out to Hanabusa for comment for this article on her view on the building of TMT and the protesters blocking Maunakea Access Road but she declined to comment.

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