Amid TMT dispute, lawmakers look to establish new body to manage Mauna Kea

Updated: Feb. 12, 2018 at 8:41 PM HST
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Amid the dispute over the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea, lawmakers are looking into changing who manages and oversees the summit.

Some are considering stripping the University of Hawaii and the state Land Board of that responsibility.

A bill in the legislature sets up a nine-member Mauna Kea Management Authority (MKMA), which would regulate the number of telescopes, renegotiate leases with telescope operators, and establish law enforcement staff for the mountain.

State Sen. Kai Kahele is leading support for the bill.

"That's why we have this untenable pressure, tension on the mountain right now. If the University of Hawaii had treated the cultural practitioners with the respect, we wouldn't be in this situation today. You should have met them half way," said Kahele, (D) Hilo.

Criticism of UH and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources was first raised in an audit nearly two decades ago. But the university said it has made a lot of progress since then.

"The critical 1998 audit was based on an assessment roughly of the first 30 years," said Greg Chun, UH Mauna Kea special advisor. "Since that time, the university of Hawaii has created open and transparent and effective processes that we are proud of."

One of the goals of the measure is to force the telescopes to pay more.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which would get a share of that added revenue, testified in favor of the bill.

"We know that the measure specifically tries to balance what we think is a lopsided emphasis on telescope development at the expense of everything else including the protections of traditional and customary rights," said Jocelyn Doane, OHA senior policy advocate.

But not all Hawaiians support the proposal.

"Membership in the MKMA excludes the vast majority of kanaka maoli, cultural practitioners and groups, and does not require any of the nine voting members to have any expertise in kanaka maoli traditional practices," said Healani Sonoda-Pale, chair of Ka Lahui Hawaii's political action committee.

The Senate committees that heard the bill said they plan to make a decision in the next few days. But even if the Senate passes it, it faces a tough battle in the House.

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