(BIVN) – A controversial House Bill relating to “Science and Technology Research Subzones” was held in committee today after receiving hundreds of pages of testimony against the proposal.
HB 1565 would have established “science and technology research subzones and an approval process for future research facilities that incorporates alternative dispute resolution principles.”
Hawaii Island representative Cindy Evans, the Chair of the House Committee On Economic Development & Business, announced she would be holding the bill in committee after Vice Chair, Rep. Jarrett Keohokalole, read through hundreds of names in opposition to the legislation.
In addition to designating science and technology research subzones, including in highly disputed spots like Mauna Kea, known as a premier location for astronomy, the bill would have made science and technology research facilities permitted uses in all zones of the conservation district. The bill would have also provided for “the negotiated lease of public lands to government agencies and science and technology research organizations and institutions for the development and operation of a science and technology research facility for nominal consideration and without auction.”
Debrah Ward of the Sierra Club was one of the many to offer testimony in opposition. She wrote:
I am a Sierra Club member from Hawaii Island who strongly opposes HB 1565. Conservation districts protect our most vulnerable and important habitats and ecosystems. We must not allow a blanket conversion option to industrialize or precious resources for expediency! Further, HB 1565
1. undermines land use regulations, and specifically, the purpose of conservation districts in the interests of science and technology developers;
2. removes the contested case process through which people can publicly present evidence and argument – and hear the other sides’ too;
3. authorizes BLNR and the counties to permit “science and technology” land uses that would otherwise be prohibited; and
4. creates a fast-track for certain SciTech projects at the expense of critical land use regulations and public procedures.
KAHEA, The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, saw the bill in correlation to the ongoing litigation involving the Thirty Meter Telescope’s Conservation District Use Permit, granted by the land board but under appeal to the Spreme Court.
Bianca Isaki, KAHEA Board Secretary, wrote:
This bill proposes a transparent end run around the Hawai‘i Supreme Court’s ruling that invalidated the Thirty-Meter Telescope’s (TMT) conservation district use permit for construction on the summits of Mauna Kea. The Court ordered the BLNR to redo the TMT land use permitting process, under which the TMT would have to meet eight criteria in order to be built in the Mauna Kea Conservation District. This bill would change that process such that projects like the TMT would only have to meet one or two criteria. Most importantly, controversial projects like the TMT would not be subject to contested case hearings.
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs spoke up, testifying that the measure “would accordingly invite the abandonment of the state’s fiduciary duties and moral obligations to our public lands and natural and cultural resources, as
required under the public trust.”
“It is offensive, impractical, and unsound from a business perspective,” said Laulani Teale in written testimony. “It would potentially waste millions for the State in lawsuits that would inevitably be triggered by the measure. It would have a significant adverse effect on the health of Kanaka Maoli and all who care about Mauna Kea, Haleakala, and sacred places as a whole.” Teale was also present to speak in person at the hearing.
The bill also drew concern from Puna-resident Robert Petricci, who has been fighting the expansion of geothermal development in his own backyard. “HB1565 attempts to restrict impacted residents due process and recourse, in order to throw open the door to development in conservation and coastal areas,” Petricci wrote, “While at the same time fast tracking controversial developments like geothermal, GMO, and TMT. It seems obvious that HB1565 is deeply rooted special interest legislation intended to circumvent critical checks and balances that are in place to protect the public interest.”
Not everyone was against the bill. A handful of astronomy supporters registered their support. Thayne Currie framed his testimony around the TMT dispute. “No doubt there will be future, similar disputes focused on different tracts of land proposed to be used for different scientifically/technologically-focused purposes,” Currie wrote. “Some
of these will have merit and others won’t. Regardless, the people of Hawai’i deserve a streamlined, clear and fair process based on the facts and the facts alone, heard ‘in a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner’, not the discombobulated mess the state currently has.”