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Regents Continue to Hear Testimony on Mauna Issues

November 6, 2019, 5:01 PM HST
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The University of Hawai‘i Board of Regents continues to take testimony regarding administrative rules for proposed public and commercial use on Maunakea lands.

Gathered at UH-Hilo, the regents began fielding concerns from the community and astronomers at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday. They heard testimony from 100 people who signed up to voice their issues with the proposed rules and the proposed resolution that addresses management of the mountain.

The administrative rules look at how to manage commercial activity on the mauna. The proposed resolution relates to the future management of the mauna, which includes the decommissioning of telescopes over the next five years.

As of 4 p.m., the regents were still listening to testimony. UH Spokesman Daniel Meisenzahl anticipated the regents would not take up agenda items until around 7 or 8 p.m. Wednesday.

One of the agenda items will review the final report from the Maunakea Governance Permitted Interaction Group, as well as address the group’s eventual dissolution. The same agenda item will deal with the approval of the resolution to adopt items relating to Maunakea management, including budget items.

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Wednesday’s discussions stem from a protest against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope set to be built on Maunakea. Since mid-July, demonstrators have been camped out at Maunakea Access Road blocking vehicles that might attempt to start work on TMT. This protest has snowballed into bigger issues on management and care of the mountain.

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Many of the testifiers raised concern over the restriction of access for Native Hawaiians and cultural practitioners. One of the testifiers, Keala Lee Loy, urged the regents to reject the resolution.

“Bigger and better is a more westernized concept. The nature of our geography doesn’t support this concept,” Lee Loy said.

Lee Loy said she believes the regents’ plan is presumptuous and urged them to reconsider.

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Many of the testifiers stated the university didn’t have the right to manage the mountain in the first place and would like to see Maunakea under new management.

Astronomers also raised concern as to the proposed resolution’s management plan. They spoke in favor of deferring the resolution until they’ve had meaningful consultation.

Jessica Dempsey is deputy director of the East Asian Observatory/James Clark Maxwell Telescope. The telescope she manages is listed as one of the five that would be decommissioned.

While she understands the intent of the board to find a path forward, Dempsey said the impacts on jobs and education would be enormous, as the telescope continues to contribute to meaningful scientific discoveries.

Meisenzahl said the resolution sets a non-bonding timeline and the proposed administrative rules aren’t targeted toward religious practitioners, but rather on how to better manage commercial activity on the mountain.

Commercial tour operators haven’t had their permits updated in years, which the resolution would allow. It would also allow the ability to create rules for those who disrespect the mountain.

Meisenzahl drew attention to an incident earlier this year when a viral video showed three professional athletes from Europe on snowboards and skis carving paths down the rocky mountainside of Maunakea.

“We had no way to go after them,” he said.

Meisenzahl said many of the rules proposed are already in place. Since UH is leasing 11,000 acres of land from the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the goal is to mirror the rules DLNR already has in place.

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