On Wednesday, the Mauna Kea Management Board (MKMB) met to discuss whether or not to approve the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project on Mauna Kea. I was first to testify. This is what I said:
I recall meeting Henry Yang [TMT Board Chairman and Chancellor of UC Santa Barbara] for the first time in UH-Hilo Chancellor Rose Tseng’s office, when he was in town to find out if siting the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawai‘i was even possible. At that time, it was a foregone conclusion that the telescope project was going to Chile.
I told him the most important thing to do in order to turn things around was to go talk story with the people. His face lit up, and he told me that was exactly what he wanted to do, because it was about talking to people and building relationships and trust.
In a short time, I could tell that this was a person you could do business with on a handshake. I knew that with Henry, we would not have to watch our backs. I even called my brother Kenneth to tell him that I thought things had changed.
Henry came to Hilo about 15 times, along with Jean Lou Chameau, president of Cal Tech. He did not come here seeking publicity; hardly anyone ever knew they were here. He visited with the regular folk.
He even visited Keaukaha Elementary School four times. The last time was when they had a free hour on Kupuna Day. We went over, sat on a bench and listened to kupuna giving advice to sixth graders.
After the program was pau, people asked them, “Where you guys going? Come, come; go eat.” People had made plates of laulau, poi, lomi salmon and haupia. Henry and Jean Lou dug in to eat and talked story with the folk. I could see that in the people’s eyes, they had become just Henry and Jean Lou.
In their trips talking to the regular folks, Henry and Jean Lou discovered that the lowest common denominator, which people on all sides of the issue could agree upon, was keiki education. As Kumu Lehua (principal of Keaukaha Elementary) says, “Not for only the best; what about the rest?”
The TMT folks committed to an annual million dollar education fund for the keiki. Funding would start as soon as all permits were obtained, and it would last through the construction and the life of the project—more than $50 million in all. This proved to us all that they heard the people.
As we went around visiting people, Patrick Kahawaiola‘a, president of the Keaukaha Community Association, told me that it’s about “the process.” And since the process would result in the best possible result, we need to aloha everyone who participates in the process, no matter which side of the issue they are on. Therefore, we must mahalo Kealoha, Nelson, Debbie, Paul, Ku, Hanalei, the Kanaka Council, Jim, Cory, Moani and many others. We would not be here today had it not been for their passionate advocacy.
The whole state has noticed that we on the Big Island are doing this differently. Our approach is based on mutual respect, collaboration
and trust. The TMT folks, led by Henry Yang, did it the right way. It
would not have worked any other way.
I have much aloha for Henry. My Pop used to tell me when I was a small kid – “Get thousand reasons why no can; I only looking for the one reason why can.”
The MKMB voted unanimously to approve construction of the TMT on Mauna Kea. I am convinced that the countless volunteers did the best they could to make sure that this project is pono.