Federal Suit Against State on Mauna Kea Access Heard

July 9, 2015, 5:44 PM HST (Updated July 11, 2015, 3:22 PM)
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A Federal District Court judge declined to issue a Temporary Restraining Order against the State of Hawai’i Thursday after holding a hearing on a suit alleging that cultural and religious access to Mauna Kea was being restricted through rules enforced by the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Office of Mauna Kea Management.

Judge Derrick Watson presided over the hearing on the suit Thursday morning, which was filed by plaintiff Francis Kamealoha Anuumealani Nobriga. Defendants include Governor David Ige, DLNR Chairperson Suzanne Case, and OMKM Chair Gregory Mooers. Representing Nobriga was attorney Lanny Sinkin.

Nobriga is representing the Temple of Lono as its Kahuna.

Sinkin told Big Island Now Thursday that Judge Watson did not issue a TRO against the defendants. The judge suggested either doing away with the TRO action and going to a preliminary injunction or allowing him to get another briefing before making a ruling on the TRO request.

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“He made clear that he felt the request for a temporary restraining order was premature because the rules in question are in flux, there was no clear picture before him at to who has jurisdiction in the various areas of Mauna a Wakea, and it was not clear to him how seriously the rights of the spiritual practitioners were being infringed,” Sinkin said.

A decision has not been made by Nobriga and his attorney on whether to keep trying to obtain a TRO against the state or move forward into the preliminary injunction stage. Sinkin says that once his client’s decision is made, proceedings would take place “promptly.”

“I do feel like we made our point about the restrictions being imposed on the spiritual practice of those who hold Mauna a Wakea being draconian,” explained Sinkin. “I would not be surprised to see those restrictions withdrawn or modified in the very near future.”

All eyes will now turn to Friday’s meeting of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, where a vote will be taken on proposed “emergency” amendments that would designate a “restricted area” within one mile of the Mauna Kea access road. It would ban items such as tarps, backpacks, tents, blankets and other camping items from being present in that area. It would also restrict entry into that area between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., unless an individual is “transiting through the restricted area in a motor vehicle.”

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