- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - The University of Hawaii announced a plan Monday that will lead to the removal of several large telescopes on Mauna Kea.

School officials will meet with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources this week to discuss the decommissioning process.

The plan comes nearly a week after Gov. David Ige said school officials need to do a better job caring for the mountain and asked that they carry out 10 actions.

The discussions were sparked by protests against the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope. Construction has been halted on the $1.4 billion project for nearly two months, after the arrests of people blocking access to the site. People oppose the telescope for a range of reasons, including wanting to protect sacred land from desecration, curb development and gain control over local resources.

A telescope spokeswoman said Monday there’s still no date for when construction will resume.

The university will have a plan for removing about three of the 13 telescopes on the mountain by the end of the year, along with restoring the site, school officials said. Ige asked that 25 percent of the telescopes be gone by the time Thirty Meter Telescope is ready for operation.

The physical process of taking down observatories is a new endeavor for the university, with an estimated price tag of $2 million to $5 million per telescope, UH Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney said, adding that the costs will be the observatories’ responsibility.

University officials will also discuss with the state how to identify and return to the department’s management lands that are part of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve and are not used for astronomy.

The university pledges to modify its application for a new lease to reduce the total acreage that would be under university management.

As the governor directed, the university will work on rules for non-cultural access to Mauna Kea and develop new cultural training and educational programs. Currently, all observatory employees undergo cultural training, but there’s never been a formal program for visitors, Straney said.

The actions the governor requested are “all the right things to do for the mountain,” said university President David Lassner.

Telescope opponents are skeptical plans by the governor or university will lead to meaningful change, said Kealoha Pisciotta, a Big Island leader against the project.

The university said it has been listening to the community, particularly getting advice and guidance from Kahu Ku Mauna, a council of Native Hawaiian volunteers who advise the Mauna Kea Management Board, Office of Mauna Kea Management and the UH Hilo chancellor on cultural issues involving the university’s management areas.

In response to the governor’s request that telescope partners increase support for Native Hawaiian students, particularly those from the Big Island, the university plans to launch a campaign for new scholarship programs to help those students study sciences and allocate a portion of Thirty Meter Telescope observing time to UH-Hilo. The university could do a better job getting Native Hawaiian students into graduate programs, Straney said.

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Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa .

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