Ige: Mauna Kea stewardship bill would ’end astronomy’ on Hawaii Island

The measure goes before the Senate Ways and Mean Committee this week.
The governor says he’s worried a much-debated Mauna Kea stewardship bill could end the $100 million astronomy industry on Hawaii island.
Published: Apr. 5, 2022 at 4:13 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 5, 2022 at 5:25 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The governor says he’s worried a much-debated Mauna Kea stewardship bill could end the $100 million astronomy industry on Hawaii island and with it, the stalled TMT project.

“It does seem to be clear that it is intended to end astronomy on Mauna Kea and I do have a concern about that,” Gov. David Ige told Hawaii News Now.

House Bill 2024 was supposed to be up for a vote Tuesday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, but that got deferred until Friday.

During his interview with HNN, Ige appeared to be frustrated with lawmakers.

“Are they intending to shut down astronomy on Hawaii Island? They should be clear about it. Do they support astronomy or do they believe it should be stopped?” said Ige.

The measure would establish a stewardship authority with 11 voting members, including the DLNR, UH, Hawaiian community, and the observatories. The bill would put the authority under UH Hilo for administrative issues instead of the UH president or Board of Regents.

“I’m open to having another entity. I’ve talked with many entities that may be able, that have the capacity to manage Mauna Kea and there is no interest in taking on that responsibility and the controversy,” said Ige.

In 2019, months-long protests blocked construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

Meanwhile, UH’s lease of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve expires in 2033.

“I’m very concerned about the future of astronomy on this island,” said Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth.

“We have some hard deadlines that are coming up, some negotiations that need to be done not just for TMT, but for all of the telescopes,.”

Supporters of the bill say it would not end astronomy, and argue protection of Mauna Kea needs to be put first. They also say UH has mismanaged the mountain for years.

“Anyone that says the current management regime isn’t broken, I’m not sure how we can be truthful,” said Kamana Beamer, of Aina Aloha Economic Futures.

“It was written as a fundamental tool of how to care for the Mauna and eventually expand it for how to care for the islands,” added cultural practitioner Pualani Kanakaole Kanahele.

During a March 22 hearing before the Senate Committee on Higher Education, testimony got heated.

“We cannot keep lying to the people. This is a mechanism,” said Republican state Sen. Kurt Fevella. “As one of the protectors of Mauna Kea from the beginning since I got here, I never like the university to have nothing to do with Mauna Kea,” he added.

“If you’re going to destroy astronomy in Mauna Kea, what are you gonna say to these kids?” said Katherine Roseguo as she held up a photo of the Maunakea Scholars program.

Ige says his 10-point plan identifies the the transfer of 10,000 acres back to the state Land Board, which the state is working on.

He says that transfer would cover all of the most significant cultural and historic sights on Mauna Kea.

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