East Hawaii News

Sierra Club: TMT Challenges Environmental Integrity

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As the controversy over the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea continues, the Sierra Club of Hawai’i has chimed in to express its issues with the construction, which lies in the integrity of Hawai’i’s environmental laws.

Marti Townsend, Director of the Sierra Clubof Hawai’i,  says that the environmental organization has raised long-withstanding questions regarding the practice of allowing major industrial installations to be built on Mauna Kea.

“What do our laws mean if this 18-story building is considered an ‘improvement on the natural beauty of Mauna Kea’?” Townsend noted.

The conservation district was established in 1961 to ensure that natural environments remained wild and were not overtaken by buildings and other human-made constructions.


Within the conservation districts are the mountains, streams, certain watersheds, and shorelines.

“We have no issue with the pursuit of science or astronomy, just compliance with the laws meant to protect the things we all love about Hawai‘i,” said Townsend. “It does not matter if it is a house, hotel, or a telescope being proposed on Mauna Kea. This is a conservation district and there are laws restricting construction there that must be followed.”

Townsend says that the proposal to build in a conservation district is required to follow a list of eight criteria that has been designed to protect the natural environment. Among the items included in the Hawai’i Administrative Rules section 13-5-30 is that the land would not suffer adverse impact from the land use, ensures the preservation of natural beauty and open space characteristics would be preserved, and that the use of the land would not be materially detrimental to the health, safety, or welfare of the public.


On behalf of the Sierra Club of Hawai’i, Townsend believes that complying with the criteria set for the conservation area is a critical aspect of maintaining balance between the natural and built environments.

Sierra Club member and Moku Loa group leader Nelson Ho emphasized that the issue does not lay with astronomy, saying, “Of course, I am not against astronomy. I love astronomy. I love taking my family up to the mountain with our own telescope to view the constellations. I also love to hike in the wilderness of Mauna Kea.  But all of that is harder to do now that the huge observatories have taken over the mountain. The balance just isn’t there anymore.”

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