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Proposed Stewardship Authority Over Maunakea Moves to Ways and Means Committee for Further Discussion

By Tiffany DeMasters
March 24, 2022, 3:30 PM HST
* Updated March 24, 2:57 PM
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A bill that would establish an 11-member Mauna a Wakea stewardship authority passed out of the Senate Higher Education Committee with amendments and is now on its way to the Ways and Means Committee for further deliberation.

The committee voted on Wednesday, five yeses and one reservation, after hearing two hours of testimony on the measure on Tuesday, March 22. The foundation of HB2024 D1 was the result of a State House Maunakea Working Group that spent months looking for solutions on how best to protect and manage the mountain following protests against the construction of the Thirty-Meter-Telescope in 2019.

“As you can imagine I’ve spent many days and nights since this measure was referred to the Higher Education Committee and reviewing the report from the working group,” said Committee Chair Donna Mercado Kim on Wednesday. “It’s not just a Hawai‘i Island issue or a Hawaiian culture issue. It is a statewide issue, if not worldwide issue that we must address.”

Watch the public hearing below:

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The purpose of the senate’s public hearing, Kim said, was to in part determine whether the mauna’s current manager, the University of Hawai‘i, was a responsible steward.

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“What we found was the management of Maunakea has become very divisive in part due to the university’s slow pace in addressing the management deficiencies and lack of community engagement,” Kim said. “The most serious concerns raised, whether you were in support or opposed to this measure, was the lack of confidence in UH’s leadership to continue the progress of managing Maunakea — to initiate updates, to evaluate and audit plans in a timely and consistent manner.”

Kim said UH’s primary purpose is in education, not as land managers.

“As the higher education chair, I know all too well the myriad of issues that paralyze UH and while they’ve been quick to act in a couple of recent projects, these are misplaced priorities when considering everything that is on their plate,” she added.

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Kim said Maunakea deserves and needs an oversight authority that is 100% dedicated to its mission, however, after reviewing everything she added she wasn’t convinced that the current bill as drafted would meet the needs of the mauna without financially overburdening the taxpayers as well as addressing the needs of the University of Hawai‘i’s astronomy program.

Kim said the senate draft of the measure is a work in progress as “there is no perfect bill.” She recommended various amendments, which include establishing the Maunakea stewardship and oversight authority as the principal authority for the management of state-managed lands above 9,200 feet elevation line on Maunakea in conjunction with the Department of Land and Natural Resources. This authority will replace the role of the University of Hawai‘i Board of Regents and university president.

Of the 11-member authority, three of the members must be residents of Hawai‘i County.

Other amendments include the authority developing a framework to allow astronomy development on Maunakea as well as requiring the timely decommissioning of telescopes Cal-Tech and the UH-Hilo teaching telescope.

The amended bill authorizes the establishment of advisory groups, allows the authority to limit certain commercial uses and activities on Maunakea, requires the authority to allow UH a certain amount of viewing time with the telescopes, as well as requires the university to equitably fund the authority.

The amended bill also provides certain restrictions on leases, requires an application for all recreational uses of Maunakea and establishes the Maunakea management special fund.

The authority shall consist of 11 voting members who shall be appointed by the governor, all subject to Senate confirmation. Appointees include a chairperson for DLNR, a chairperson for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the chair of the UH Board of Regents, and a representative selected by the Maunakea observatories. Kim also noted the authority include an individual with ‘aina resource management, a lineal descent of a practitioner of Hawaiian traditional and customary practices associated with Maunakea, a recognized practitioner of native Hawaiian traditional and customary practices.

The authority would take up the mantle of stewardship starting January 2023. Authority members shall serve for a term of three years and shall not serve more than 12 years.

Following Chair Kim’s amendments and recommendation to pass, Committee Vice-Chair Sen. Michelle Kidani noted Maunakea and its stewardship has been an issue at the forefront of many minds.

“Those who support astronomy, those who are cognizant of native Hawaiian rights, this was not an easy task so I really commend you for taking it on,” she said.

Committee member Sen. Kurt Fevella was on the mauna during the protests against TMT in 2019. Between the things he heard and witnessed, it was emotional for him.

“Not everybody is going to be happy, but you cannot make everybody happy,” Fevella said. “We have to have something done we can live with. From me personally, I wanted to thank you for my family as this is something my family can live with and I can live with.”

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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