BLNR Votes to Approve Mauna Kea Restrictions
The Board of Land and Natural Resources passed an emergency set of rules in Section 13-123-21.2 of the Hawai’i Administrative Rules late Friday night, many hours after testimony began on the controversial topic regarding Mauna Kea and the people who are on top of the mountain seeking to prevent construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope project.
Five board members voted to adopt the emergency amendments, while two voted no. The updated rules, which will last for 120 days, defines a “restricted area” on Mauna Kea as “any lands in the public hunting area that includes the Mauna Kea Observatory Access Road and one mile on either side of the Mauna Kea Observatory Access road.” No one will be able to access the area from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., unless “transiting through the restricted area in a motor vehicle.” Additionally, obvious camping items will not be allowed in the area, including sleeping bags, tents, camping stoves, or propane burners.
Approximately 150 people registered to testify at Friday’s meeting, which was held at the Kalanimoku Building on Oahu. The BLNR meeting started at 9 a.m. to address other agenda topics, and after an executive session, focused entirely on the proposed emergency rules when the board returned at 1 p.m.
Attorney General Douglas Chin was the first to testify, and stayed at the table for about an hour to answer questions from various board members. He pushed for the board to pass the emergency measures, saying that an “imminent peril exists to public health, safety, and morals, for which quick action is necessary.”
“These are forest reserve lands. This is a hunting and gaming area,” Chin stated in his testimony. “They [the protectors] cook there, they sleep there, they live there.”
The Attorney General’s words came a day after the University of Hawai’i released a log of events over the last few months on Mauna Kea, as documented by Mauna Kea Rangers and Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station workers. The documents highlighted many incidents, including allegations of threats and harassment toward other people, property damage, and safety issues.
Chin said that he was present at the MKVIS on Thursday, where he witnessed a “luxury tent” erected. He said it was the largest structure put up since the TMT opponents started spending extended time on the mountain in April.
Following Chin, numerous members of the public, overwhelmingly against passing the emergency rules, testified until just before 9 p.m.
“I know the truth of the land of mine, of ours, not yours,” said Kalani Ah Sam, who testified against the emergency measures. “We would never be sacrilegious in our own home land towards Mauna Kea. There’s no such a thing. You don’t ever even attempt to insult us in thinking that you [the board] know better than us.”
Kaho’okahi Kanuha, the young, vocal leader of the Ku Ki’ai Mauna group, voiced his disagreement over the proposed rules, but stated that it wouldn’t stop those interested in protecting Mauna Kea from doing what they needed to do.
“This law, I think, one, I think is silly, two, I think it’s irresponsible, three, I think it’s weak, and four, to be quite frank, I think it’s kinda pathetic,” Kanuha testified. “It’s an attack against us for, really, doing the job that the state is funded and paid to do themselves.
“Any law that wants to be passed? We know you guys gotta do what you gotta do. We gotta do what we gotta do. It will not stop us. That’s the truth. It will not stop us. An unlawful law will not stop us.”
Scotty Paiva, Chief Ranger with the Office of Mauna Kea Management, supported the emergency proposal, citing the social impact of what has taken place. “Workers on Mauna Kea feel threatened and don’t want to report to work. We have lost two highly qualified rangers since the encampment on Mauna Kea, and this has also created a problem to recruit qualified members.”
W.M. Keck Observatory Director Hilton Lewis echoed the safety concerns Paiva brought to the board’s attention. “It is with deep concern that I have watched the events of the last nine months unfold. My concern, first and foremost, is for the wellbeing and safety of my staff, and for everyone who is on the mountain. I’m also very concerned about the impact of shutting down access to our facilities and our ability to carry out our scientific mission.”
Shortly after 9 p.m., the seven-person board went into another executive session, with Big Island board member Stanley Roehrig stating that he needed to speak with legal counsel. The session lasted for about an hour before the board members returned. The final vote happened just before 10:30 p.m.