OHA: State incapable of giving Mauna Kea 'level of aloha' it deserves

OHA: State incapable of giving Mauna Kea 'level of aloha' it deserves
Published: Nov. 8, 2017 at 2:53 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 8, 2017 at 5:24 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is suing the state, claiming "longstanding and well-documented mismanagement" of Mauna Kea.

The suit argues that the state and the University of Hawaii have failed to "fulfill its trust obligations relating to Mauna Kea" and calls for the termination of the lease that allows UH to manage observatories atop the mountain.

OHA also says the parties have done little to protect the mountain's natural resources.

"It's time to abandon any hope that UH is capable or even willing to provide the level of aloha and attention to Mauna Kea that it deserves," said OHA Trustee Dan Ahuna. "We need to come together as a community to completely re-think how we care for the mauna, and that starts with canceling the university's master lease."

The state attorney general  is reviewing the lawsuit.

"Based on a preliminary review, it appears that the allegation are based on activity that occurred over multiple state and university administrations. Thee current state and university administrations have worked in good faith to continually improve management of the mountain. We expect to detail those efforts over the course of the litigation," said state attorney general, Doug Chin, in a statement.

The university wouldn't comment about specifics in the lawsuit, but said in general accusations of mismanagement are untrue.

"To say that there's been gross mismanagement is not accurate at all and quite frankly not fair," said UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl. "More work needs to be done, but to disregard everything that's happened on the mountain on one point or on an audit that dates back 20 years. is inaccurate and unfair."

The lawsuit cites four state audits it says have documented the university's failure to "allocate sufficient resources to protect Mauna Kea's natural resources because it focused primarily on astronomy development."

Earlier this year, OHA's Board of Trustees pledged to take an "aggressive" position aimed at holding the University of Hawaii accountable for what it called at the time a "long mismanagement" of Mauna Kea.

But the university argues that the suit is coming at a time when the institution is taking pains to listen to and address community concerns.

"I think it's really a shame because so many people have worked so hard to create a better environment on the mountain where we are caring for the natural resources, the cultural resources,"  Meisenzahl said, adding that work is underway to decommission some telescopes on the mountain.

"We are doing this because we care for the mountain whether from members of our community who care about Hawaiian causes. We have to take care of this mountain and we've been doing it because its the right thing to do and we are doing it because we've been tasked to do it."

OHA officials say the lawsuit is not related to the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope development, a project on which the agency says it has taken a neutral stance.

"This is not about any one telescope. This is about addressing the state's failure to manage the entire mountain for nearly half a century," Ahuna said.

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