One of the most unobtrusive and welcomed industries in the islands is astronomy. Mauna Kea on the Big Island and Haleakala on Maui are world-class sites for telescopes. Both summits are also important, if not sacred, in Hawaiian culture.
Haleakala figures in mythology. The peak guarding the southwest side of Kapuo Gap is the place where the demigod Maui stood when he snared the sun. Mauna Kea is said to be the meeting place between the sky god Wakea and the earth mother Papa, the couple who not only gave birth to Hawaiians but also the Hawaiian Islands.
Both summits are also home to endangered species such as the nene and the silversword. Both summits have been developed in a haphazard way. On Haleakala, part of the upper reaches of the mountain are national park and other parts comprise "Science City," currently a collection of observatories and commercial radio and television transmitter sites.
The state agency in charge of both summits is the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The DLNR follows the policies set by the Board of Land and Natural Resources.
Last week a lawsuit filed in Hilo alleges the BLNR "continues a long history of abdicating their statutory constitutional responsibilities to protect conservation lands." The suit was filed after the land board approved the University of Hawaii’s application for a permit to add six "outrigger" telescopes around two larger telescopes at the W. M. Keck Observatory.
The lawsuit asks the board to approve a comprehensive management plan before considering more development on Mauna Kea. Similar requests have been made – without going to court – for a master plan for Science City on Haleakala.
Astronomy is a good adjunct to the islands. The observatories bring in highly educated individuals who can and do teach, and on Maui were a prime reason for the development of the supercomputer site in Kihei. It is up to the state to ensure the future of this industry in Hawaii by doing what it should have done years ago – come up with summit master plans that not only allow for telescopes but also protect natural and cultural resources.