UPDATED (12:50 p.m.) – During a press conference today on an unrelated matter, Hawaii Governor David Ige declined to comment on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ lawsuit, filed Tuesday, alleging mismanagement of Mauna Kea. The University of Hawaii, on the other hand, responded by saying UHʻs management of the mountain “is not being accurately portrayed”.
The UH response to the OHA lawsuit, and any possible future comments from the state, will be featured in this article. (link pending)
UPDATED (11:45 p.m.) – Following a press conference held this morning on Oahu, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has issued a press release on the lawsuit filed in regards to the alleged mismanagement of Mauna Kea.
The OHA release reads:
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) filed a lawsuit yesterday in First Circuit Court against the State of Hawaiʻi and the University of Hawaiʻi (UH) for their longstanding and well-documented mismanagement of Mauna Kea.
OHA’s complaint requests the court to order the state to fulfill its trust obligations relating to Mauna Kea and to terminate UH’s general lease for the mountain for breach of the lease’s terms.
“The state and UH have failed to properly mālama Mauna Kea and have demonstrated their inability to ensure that the environmental and cultural significance of the mountain is recognized and protected,” said OHA Trustee Dan Ahuna, the chair of OHA’s Ad Hoc Committee on Mauna Kea. “This is not about any one telescope. This lawsuit is about addressing the state’s failure to manage the entire mountain for nearly half a century.”
“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,” Ahuna continued. “We need to come together as a community to completely re-think how we care for the mauna, and that starts with cancelling the university’s master lease.”
Four state audits have documented and criticized the state and UH’s mismanagement of Mauna Kea. The initial audit from 1998 concluded that “little was done” to protect the natural resources on Mauna Kea since the first telescope was constructed in 1968. The audit further noted that UH did not allocate sufficient resources to protect Mauna Kea’s natural resources because it focused primarily on astronomy development.
The three follow-up state audits revealed that while some progress had been made, more needed to be done. In a 2010 study, the university conceded that from a cumulative perspective, past, present and reasonably foreseeable future activities resulted in substantial and adverse impacts to the mauna’s cultural, archaeological, historical and natural resources. In 2015, the leadership of both the state and the university publicly admitted to failing to meet their management responsibilities. Gov. David Ige said that the state has “not done right by” and “failed” the mountain, and UH President David Lassner stated that the university “has not yet met all of [its] obligations to the mountain or the expectations of the community.”
As trustees of Mauna Kea, both the state and UH have breached their moral and legal obligations to manage this important place. OHA has identified countless issues and failings that have attributed to the continued mismanagement of Mauna Kea by the state and UH, including:
– Failure to budget and fund proper management of Mauna Kea;
– Failure to prudently negotiate sublease terms – for example, by allowing 11 of 13 telescopes to not pay rent;
– Failure to adequately implement the 2009 Comprehensive Management Plan, with 32 of the 54 management actions that specifically affect Native Hawaiians remaining incomplete;
– Failure to create an environment respectful of Mauna Kea’s cultural landscape, including by not adequately protecting Native Hawaiian traditional and customary rights and practices on Mauna Kea;
– Failure to manage access to Mauna Kea and activities on Mauna Kea, which has led to vehicular accidents and personal injuries and deaths, and hazardous material spills; and
– Failure to manage observatory development and decommissioning.
Over the decades, OHA has continuously advocated for improved management with the Legislature, UH Board of Regents, UH’s Office of Mauna Kea Management and BLNR. In 2002, OHA filed a federal lawsuit to force NASA to conduct a more comprehensive environmental study for an observatory project that was proposed for Mauna Kea but eventually abandoned. With growing concern regarding the management of Mauna Kea, OHA entered into a mediated process with the state and UH in 2015 to address these management shortcomings. Ultimately, the nearly two-year process was unsuccessful.
“The state and UH have failed as trustees and stewards of this beloved and sacred place. It’s been nearly 20 years since the first audit identified major issues with the management of Mauna Kea, and it is unacceptable that these concerns continue to remain,” said Kamana‘opono Crabbe, OHA’s Chief Executive Officer. “Having exhausted all our options, we are compelled to file this lawsuit to hold the state accountable for its mismanagement.”
OHA Vice Chair Dan Ahuna, who is also the chair of the OHA Ad Hoc Committee on Mauna Kea, shared the contents of his own statement, made at the podium during today’s press conference:
Mahalo Chair Machado for the introduction.
Mauna Kea is a deeply sacred place. It’s regarded as a shrine for worship, as home to nā akua, and as the piko of Hawaiʻi Island. It is truly one of Hawaiʻi’s most special places.
Yet for nearly 50 years, the state has treated the mauna as anything but special. The mismanagement of Mauna Kea is not a new issue. The state and UH have been called to task for their management failures dating back to the 1970s. The community has long recognized that unregulated public access coupled with the astronomy industry’s exploitation of Mauna Kea pose a severe threat to the mountain’s natural and cultural resources.
Generations of Native Hawaiians have expressed outrage over the state’s neglect of the mauna. For decades, OHA has joined our community in advocating at the Legislature, the UH Board of Regents and the BLNR for improved management.
Four state audits have slammed the state and UH’s stewardship of Mauna Kea, and the governor and the university president have both publicly admitted to failing to meet their management responsibilities.
Yet management continues to take a backseat to astronomy.
In response to the most recent round of protests and opposition to more unregulated development, the OHA Board formed an Ad Hoc Committee to more closely assess the issue. We conducted due diligence and looked into the numerous concerns and potential legal issues raised by community members and others regarding the state’s management failures. In 2015, OHA entered into a mediated process with the state and UH to address these management shortcomings. Ultimately, this nearly-two year process was unsuccessful.
So here we are today, left with no other recourse but to turn to the courts to compel the state to fulfill its legal obligation to properly mālama Mauna Kea. This is NOT about any single telescope. This is NOT about Hawaiian culture versus science.
This is 100 percent about the state and UH failing the mauna. It is finally time to abandon any hope that UH is capable or even willing to be proper stewards. We need to come together as a community to completely re-think how we care for the mauna, and that starts with cancelling the university’s master lease while a path forward is developed.
After 50 years of empty promises to the mauna and our community, the state needs to be held accountable. Mauna Kea deserves better.
(ORIGINAL STORY) – The Office of Hawaiian Affairs held a press conference in their Oahu board room on Wednesday morning, announcing that they have filed a lawsuit against the state in regards to the alleged mismanagement of Mauna Kea.
The press conference was live streamed over Facebook on the OHA page.
The lawsuit has been in the works for some time now, mostly discussed behind closed doors in executive sessions. OHA trustees have taken issue with the management of the mountain under the University of Hawaii, which holds a lease to the summit area from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.
OHA attorneys say the lawsuit has nothing to do with the Thirty Meter Telescope project, and say OHA waited until after the recent contested case decision in favor of the permit to file the lawsuit. OHA was supportive of the Thirty Meter Telescope when it was first proposed, but when conflict over the project intensified in 2015, OHA voted to withdraw their support and took a neutral position.