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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 10, 2006

Agency seeks fine against observatory

Associated Press

MAUNA LOA OBSERVATORY, Hawai'i The observatory on the slopes of Mauna Loa should pay $26,000 in fines because it has broken state laws about use of a conservation area, according to the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The department claims that the observatory never obtained the necessary permits for several dozen buildings, antennae and other structures on the inactive Big Island volcano over the past four decades.

The facility was cited for 33 violations of laws dealing with land in a conservation district. The Board of Land and Natural Resources was originally scheduled to discuss whether to approve the fine today, but that agenda item has been delayed while officials research it further, said Cliff Inn, education and outreach coordinator for the department.

The observatory, at an elevation of 11,141 feet, should be held to the same requirements as other astronomy facilities like those atop Mauna Kea, also on the Big Island, and others on Maui's Haleakala, according to a report from Dawn Hegger, a planner with the land department's Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands.

The Mauna Loa Observatory has carried out studies of meteorology and solar astronomy since it was dedicated in 1956. Some of its research has focused on global warming and greenhouse gases.

But Hegger said the observatory should have sought a conservation district use permit for astronomy facilities and a separate use permit for the meteorological structures.

Observatory director Russ Schnell said he didn't think state approvals were required because the facility is managed by a federal agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

He wrote in a letter to the state that there was no mention of violations when the observatory was expanded in 1992.

Hegger's report says the observatory should still have to follow state conservation laws, even if it is run by the federal government.