East Hawaii News

Land Board Defers Mauna Kea Lease Extension Request

December 13, 2013, 6:58 PM HST
* Updated December 16, 10:04 AM
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The state Board of Land and Natural Resources today again postponed a decision on a request for new long-term leases on the land being used for astronomy atop Mauna Kea.

The deferral came at the request of the University of Hawaii, which said it now wants to prepare an environmental impact statement on the proposal. UH officials said the EIS is in response to strong testimony in opposition to the new lease request  when the matter first came up before the land board in November.

In August, the university asked the land board to issue new leases for the 11,215-acre Mauna Kea Science Reserve and the 19-acre parcel where the Hale Pohaku Mid-Level Facilities are located.

The current leases are set to expire in 2033 and 2041, respectively.

University officials said it needs the new leases to reflect changes in management of the area resulting from a new master plan and other new rules and laws.

They say the longer lease terms would also facilitate “meaningful negotiations” with operators of current and future telescope projects.

Issues raised in November included impacts from continued and expanded astronomy activities to the environment and native Hawaiian cultural practices, as well as the nominal rent charged to the 13 observatories currently operating on the dormant volcano.

University officials did not provide a timeline for the preparation of the EIS.

Members of the land board discussed whether to defer or withdraw the UH lease request, but decided that because testimony had already been submitted, deferral was the proper action.

Meanwhile, a debate on the Thirty Meter Telescope proposed for Mauna Kea was carried out today in a Hilo courtroom.

Oral arguments were presented in a lawsuit filed in May by several organizations and individuals challenging approvals granted in 2011 and this past April for the $1 billion observatory.

About 80 people were present as Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura heard testimony on the approvals.

Opponents argued that the land board’s initial approval in 2011 was premature because it came after opponents had requested a contested case hearing be held on the matter.

The quasi-judicial hearing was later held and culminated with the April ruling by a hearing officer in favor of the TMT project.

Opponents also say the project should not be allowed to proceed because of environmental damage resulting from existing astronomy facilities.

It is not known when Nakamura will issue a ruling.

***Updated Dec. 16 to correct month of lawsuit filing.***

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