Lawmakers Seek Change in Maunakea Management

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House Speaker Scott K. Saiki

Lawmakers announced plans Tuesday to introduce legislation that would reassess a new governance structure for Maunakea.

In his opening remarks to the Hawai‘i House of Representatives, House Speaker Scott K. Saiki stated his opposition to the University of Hawai‘i’s continued management of Maunakea. He added that he hopes UH will stop pursuing the renewal of the master lease of the mountain, which is set to expire in 2033.

The school has held the master lease since 1968, requiring it to manage the Maunakea Astronomy Precinct and the Natural and Cultural Preservation Area.

“The university has tried its best to manage Maunakea, but for too long the university’s work has been shrouded by its inability to appropriately manage cultural practices, resources and education,” Saiki said to House representatives.

After the session, Saiki spoke to the media over Zoom. He said that if the university continues its work to extend the master lease, it will create significant conflict and litigation.


“It will be an uphill battle to gain the extension given the past management,” the speaker said.

Saiki added that the House will introduce a resolution to begin the process of reassessing a new governance structure for the mountain.

Representatives David Tarnas, Mark M. Nakashima and Daniel Holt are working on drafting a resolution to address conflicts between economic growth, culture and the environment on Maunakea.

Tarnas — who represents North Kohala, South Kohala and North Kona — recommended a governance structure that would retain the State Department of Land and Natural Resources as the primary management entity on Maunakea.

“They have that responsibility now and envision that they continue that responsibility and provide direct leases to the individual observatories rather than UH having a master lease,” Tarnas said.


The governance structure is important to the existing observatories. Saiki told the media that he’s always supported the astronomy program, including the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope project.

“At this point, it’s really important we address the governance issue for the mountain in order for anything to be successful,” the speaker said. “If we have a sound process in place that addresses the management of Maunakea, it may then lead to the approval of TMT.”

The mountain and the telescopes built on its summit have been at the heart of controversy for the Hawaiian people for several years. In July 2019, hundreds ascended the mountain to halt the transport of construction equipment up the access road.

Demonstrators called themselves Ku Kia‘i, protectors of Maunakea. The Kia‘i camped at the base of the road for several months, shutting down TMT as well as astronomy work. In December 2019, TMT put a halt on its construction indefinitely.

On Tuesday, Saiki said the Kia‘i will have a seat at the table and be a part of the discussion of Maunakea’s future.


“Maunakea is a manifestation of what happens when we draw lines, work in silos and disregard different views,” Saiki stated.

Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, a Kia‘i, said Saiki called her Monday night to tell her he was making an announcement regarding Maunakea but that she didn’t know what that announcement would entail. She said she is optimistic about Saiki’s approach to revamping the mauna’s governance structure.

Wilson has been asking for a change in management.

“I’m optimistic in this new ability to address these important issues, but this isn’t new (either),” Wilson said, noting the government has objected to what native Hawaiians wanted in the past.

While no invitation to join the conversation has been formerly made, Wilson said she is looking forward to open and honest dialogue.

Saiki told the media that UH President David Lassner has tried to correct some of the deficiencies with regards to Maunakea.

“He’s done an admirable job,” the speaker noted.

Big Island Now reached out to Lassner is awaiting a response.

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