Bound for heavy debate, bill seeks to strip UH as sole manager of Mauna Kea

The bill would create a "Mauna A Wakea" Stewardship Authority of 10 voting members.
Published: Mar. 21, 2022 at 4:43 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 21, 2022 at 6:04 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lawmakers will consider a bill that would strip UH as the sole manager of Mauna Kea. It’s poised to stir up a high stakes debate Tuesday.

The bill would create a Mauna A Wakea Stewardship Authority of 10 voting members. UH would have a seat at the table, but no longer be the sole manager.

UH worries the bill could lead to the end of astronomy and the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope project on Mauna Kea. It says the bill has legal, procedural and regulatory issues since UH has the subleases to the observatories on the mountain and permits with TMT.

“The bill is flawed and therefore represents an enormous risk to Mauna Kea astronomy,” said Doug Simons, director, UH Institute for Astronomy.

“Some how these agreements need to be transferred to the new entity without opening them up to litigation which I’m sure TMT does not want to get into,” he added.

“We should be clear this bill does not kill astronomy,” said Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, native rights activist and cultural practitioner.

Wong-Wilson was part of a Mauna Kea working group that came up with provisions of the bill. She calls it a paradigm shift to put Mauna Kea first and that astronomy, education and ecology of the mountain will fall into place.

“It places the Mauna in the center of the table. It places the health and well-being of Mauna A Wakea as the central purpose and piece of the authority,” she said.

There are 13 observatories on Mauna Kea. Two are undergoing decommissioning and UH has committed to a total of nine telescopes.

“What is really clear is that the university and those of us in the community who don’t believe that they have done a good enough job over the last 50 plus years and it’s is not going to improve,” said Wong-Wilson.

“The narrative that’s been put out there about UH mismanagement is 25 years old and we have moved far beyond that,” said Greg Chun, executive director, UH Maunakea Stewardship.

“Our folks feel that they are not appreciated. The work that they do is not appreciated,” he added.

House bill 2024 will be heard Tuesday at 3 p.m. by the Senate Committee on Higher Education at 3 p.m.

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