State House and Senate on a collision course over future of astronomy on Mauna Kea

The state House and Senate are on a collision course over the future of astronomy on Mauna Kea.
Published: Apr. 8, 2022 at 3:52 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 8, 2022 at 4:15 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state House and Senate are on a collision course over the future of astronomy on Mauna Kea.

Senate lawmakers passed a bill Friday that keeps the university in charge of telescopes on the summit.

That’s unlike the House bill, which the governor says could kill the Thirty Meter Telescope project and other observatories.

State Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, Senate Ways and Means Committee chair, said the Senate bill “addresses the perceived threat to the future astronomy in our state.”

The authority, Dela Cruz said, would “properly conserve, protect and manage the public uses of Mauna Kea conservation lands. At the same time, the University will be solely responsible to care and manage the astronomy research lands.”

The university would sublease 9,450 acres to the new authority, but UH would be solely responsible for negotiating its subleases with the telescopes.

“It puts Mauna Kea first in terms of the conservation of the land and it puts the observatories and the astronomy precinct also first,” said Donna Mercado Kim, Senate Higher Education chair.

In a recent interview with Hawaii News Now, Gov. David Ige had warned that earlier versions of the bill could have killed the Thirty Meter Telescope project and astronomy on Mauna Kea because of uncertainty with telescope leases up for renegotiation.

“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.

But Mercado Kim says the governor was wrong.

“The problem is we never heard from the governor,” said Mercado Kim. “We put a lot of things in place that sent the message that it’s not the end of astronomy.”

State Sen. Kurt Fevella is against the Thirty Meter Telescope and UH being the sole manager of Mauna Kea. He says he voted for the bill even though he disagrees with parts of it.

“We can continue to separate Mauna Kea from the university. You cannot do it all in one time or the bill would have died,” said Fevella.

The House and Senate have different stands on the role of the university on the mountain and the differences will have to be negotiated or the bill will die.

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