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TMT Hearing: OMKM Natural Resources Manager Testifies

December 8, 2016, 10:10 AM HST
* Updated December 8, 2:30 PM
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tmt sunset

An artist’s rendering of the Thirty Meter Telescope at sunset. TMT photo.

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources Conservation District Use Application Contested Case Hearing on the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory (TIO) continued with applicant University of Hawai‘i witness Fritz Klasner on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, in Hilo.

A contested case hearing was requested with respect to the 2011 decision by the BLNR to issue a permit to build the $1.4 billion next-generation telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea.

The Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruled the permit invalid until a contested case hearing could be held to evaluate a petition by a group challenging the project’s approval.

Klasner is the Environment and Natural Resource Program manager. He testified on the management of natural resources in the Mauna Kea Science Reserve.

Klasner answered questions and discussed research efforts, monitoring, resource management programs, educational programs for the staff and general public, educational material, community recognition and invasive species.

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Klasner testified his job is to try to “preserve and protect” natural resources on the mountain and to “identify them so we can understand them and protect them.”

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Through the numerous petitioners’ cross-examinations, the topic of cultural practitioners reoccurred.

Klasner testified that to a “certain extent,” cultural and natural resources can be separated and to another context they cannot. His clarification of the two contexts was somewhat unclear.

However, he did agree that the Comprehensive Management Plan does list rock, soil and ice under cultural resources and natural resources.

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He also said the CMP’s goal is for science and culture to co-exist in a way that is “mutually respectful,” while honoring the unique cultural and historical features of Mauna Kea.

Klasner also testified about the Office of Mauna Kea Management’s handling of new sites and unpermitted structures erected on the mountain.

Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner Wallace Ishibashi previously testified that the OMKM’s policy for removing upright stones, ahu (shrines) and other items found on the mountain.

Ishibashi testified that OMKM will remove unpermitted items without going to the advisory boards for each individual situation.

Klasner testified that cultural advisory board Kahu Kū Mauna, as well as the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, are aware of these policies, adding, “I don’t know whether it was approved by DLNR,” but the policies and procedures are known.

Ishisbashi testified that the procedures OMKM follows are the rules set by the DLNR. He stated that after 30 days, unpermitted items are removed.

Klasner was “not specifically” aware of a 30-day policy.

Klasner also testified that he does not recall the “details of the policies stated on the OMKM website regarding the handling of shrines.

Another area of contention was the three-week closure of public restroom facilities at the Visitor Center.

Klasner testified he was not aware or involved in the decision to shut down the bathrooms.

Klasner stated that for him the first thing that comes to mind is health and safety.

During petitioner Mehana Kihoi’s cross-examination, Klasner testified that approximately 150 to 300 visitors visit the mountain each day. He said that during this closure OMKM did not monitor where members of the public relieved themselves due to no restroom facilities available.

Klasner testified that he understood the closure to be due to vandalism of the bathroom.

The petitioners questioned how this was not a greater health and safety concern than feces smeared on the bathroom wall. No explanation was given.

Klasner was asked many questions regarding practices and emergency procedures.

Opponent Kealoha Pisciotta questioned Klasner on the drains in the observatories and how accidental spills are handled.

Klasner testified that most observatories have something called a French drain, which allows only liquids to go onto the landscape.

Klasner stated that drip pans are required for all construction equipment and vehicles at risk of leaking fluids onto the landscape.

Klasner testified that tour buses are not required to use drip pans.

Attorney Lanny Alan Sinkin, representing the Temple of Lono, cross-examinated Klasner, who said, “Part of being a person is having a culture.”

When asked about his own culture, Klasner returned to his previous response, saying that “cultural practitioner” is not defined by Hawai‘i law.

Sinkin concluded by asking Klasner if it was fair to say “that the spiritual practices of the Hawaiian people are not a significant component of your work?”

Klasner stated that it is a fair assessment.

Klasner also testified that he is aware of both individual burials and burial grounds on Mauna Kea.

He also testified that native ferns are located within the proposed TMT site.

UH Attorney Ian Sandison asked the witness during his redirect of Klasner if OMKM is responsible for the management of the Visitor Center bathrooms. Klasner replied that  it is the responsibility of Mauna Kea Support Services.

Following Sandison’s redirect, Hearing Officer Riki May Amano allowed for re-cross-examination of the witness.

Kihoi asked if not OMKM, who would address the visitors relieving themselves around and on the native plant species?

Klasner stated, “That would fall under our office.”

Pisciotta asked if it does not fall under OMKM’s purview,  why is Klasner’s name, phone number and email address posted on the bathroom door.  “I do not know,” Klasner replied.

Download Klasner’s written, direct testimony here.

University witness Stephanie Nagata was scheduled to testify next, but due to unforeseen circumstances, she will testify at a later date.

Due to the unavailability of the remaining UH witnesses, TMT International Observatory will call its first witness in order to keep the hearing moving forward and to efficiently use their time.

Nagata is the OMKM director and is expected to testify on the management of Mauna Kea.

Download the full UH-Hilo witness list here.

The hearing continues Thursday, Dec. 8 with TIO witness Naea Stevens in the Willie K. Room at The Grand Naniloa Hotel in Hilo.

Stevens will testify about his experience working on the mountain, as well as how this access to the mountain has allowed him to connect with his Hawaiian heritage.

Download TIO’s full witness list here.

The BLNR contested case hearing on the TMT project will resume on Dec. 12, 13, 16, 19 and 20.

The scheduled hearing dates in 2017 include Jan. 3 to 5, 9 to 12, 19, 23 to 26, 30 and 31.

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