East Hawaii News

UH Seeking New Lease for Mauna Kea Science Reserve

November 5, 2013, 4:08 PM HST
* Updated December 13, 5:43 PM
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The University of Hawai`i is asking the Board of Land and Natural Resources to extend its leased control of astronomy facilities atop Mauna Kea for an additional 45 years.

The university currently holds a 65-year lease expiring in 2033 for the 11,215-acre Mauna Kea Science Reserve, and a 55-year lease expiring in 2041 for the 19-acre parcel where the Hale Pohaku Mid-Level Facilities are located.

UH is asking the land board to cancel those leases issued in 1968 and 1986, respectively, and issue new ones of the same length.

The request is scheduled to be taken up by the land board at a meeting Friday in Honolulu.

The university said it is asking for the new leases for several reasons, including the need to have the lease reflect changes in the way Mauna Kea is managed that resulted from a master plan adopted by UH in 2000, from a comprehensive management plan approved by the land board in 2009 and from Act 132, a 2009 state law dealing with public and commercial activities allowed on the mountain.

A fourth reason given was that the changes are necessary for the university to “enter into meaningful negotiations with current and any potential future telescope projects.”

The last one is clearly aimed at the Thirty Meter Telescope project which is planned for Mauna Kea.

Thirty Meter Telescope spokeswoman Sandra Dawson said while the TMT project is not directly involved in the university’s request, it could benefit from the security of a longer sublease for the project’s site.

So far the only approval granted by the land board for the TMT project is a conservation district use permit given to the university.

The permit was granted in 2011 but was immediately the subject of a contested case hearing requested by opponents of the project. That hearing was completed early this year with a ruling in favor of the university, and the permit took effect in April.

UH requested the CDUP on behalf of TMT, and since its approval has allowed TMT to conduct preliminary drilling and coring at the telescope site to aid in its design.

A coalition of opponents has gone to court to challenge the issuing of the CDUP. Arguments in the case are scheduled for Dec. 13 in Third Circuit Court.

According to the permit, a sublease approved by both the UH Board of Regents and the land board will be required before the TMT can be built.

***Updated at 12:34 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 6.***

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