OHA’s Stance on TMT Questioned

April 10, 2015, 3:09 PM HST (Updated April 10, 2015, 3:32 PM)
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With the days counting down on Governor David Ige’s week-long moratorium on construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea, attention has shifted to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and its past actions involving the controversial telescope.

At the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ Board of Trustees meeting Thursday on Oahu, a group of TMT opponents appeared to voice their opinions on the telescope and ask for action from OHA.

“All of the trustees are very sympathetic about the feelings of the people who came to speak to us,” said OHA trustee Rowena Akana. “It was amicable. There weren’t any really hard words spoken on either side or anything. We tried to claim our position.”

In addition, about 1,000 students from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa gathered Friday morning for a demonstration at the campus’ taro patches. According to a KITV report, the students not only are marching in support of protecting Mauna Kea, but also to call for OHA to take an official stance on the current state of the TMT project.

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Over the long, contentious battle over the Thirty Meter Telescope, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has not exactly stood in solidarity against the telescope.

On July 2, 2009, OHA’s Board of Trustees made a motion in support of TMT on top of the Big Island’s largest mountain. According to the Final Environmental Impact Statement on TMT, issued on May 8, 2010, the trustees resolved “to support the selection of Maunakea, Hawai’i as the site for the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope Project.” The EIS noted a “consideration of various cultural and economic factors.”

When asked by Big Island Now if OHA planned to retract its 2009 statement, Akana said, “I think the 2009 support was of the management plan… I don’t think it was a confirmation type vote. I think it was a general consensus but I am not really sure. We have our staff looking back at the minutes, trying to find the action that supposedly the board took. I’m not sure exactly what exactly the wording was.”

Last year, OHA decided not to follow through with a case hearing that involved the sublease of the site of the telescope on Mauna Kea. The University of Hawai’i at Hilo owns the lease to the land from the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The DLNR approved the terms of UH-Hilo’s sublease to TMT on June 27, 2014. OHA ended its pursuit of an appeal the following month.

“We did file a lawsuit and we lost and then they [TMT opponents] wanted to continue the lawsuit but the majority of the board felt that there wasn’t anything that we could file on, that we thought that we could win, because in the first round they had at least did the EIS,” said Akana in a phone interview.

“Our hands are tied because [the] legislature years ago gave the University autonomy over these lands. I have been saying for the last couple of years now, the legislature needs to revisit this because the university is a runaway train,” Akana explained. “They do whatever they want and they say that no one can stop them because they have autonomy and they have the right to do this. The state leases the land to them for a dollar a year, and the state gets 80 cents and OHA get 20 cents a year. Can you imagine that?”

Earlier this month, OHA trustee Peter Apo publicly called for Ige and UH-Hilo to impose a 30-day moratorium on construction to allow for all sides to come to a conclusion that everyone could agree on. The request was not granted.

The trustees gathered Friday morning for a follow-up meeting to discuss the opinions and concerns raised the previous night. Akana says she will be going up to Mauna Kea on Sunday to “take supplies to the people and do what I can as an individual.”

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