(BIVN) – The University of Hawaiʻi is making its case to keep control of Mauna Kea.
The university holds the master lease for the summit area of the mountain, where astronomy research has thrived. But new legislation could change everything.
Senate Bill 3090 proposes to establishes a new Mauna Kea Management Authority. It would dissolve the university’s Office of Mauna Kea Management, “limit the number of telescopes that may be authorized on Mauna Kea”, and authorize the renegotiation of leases, subleases, easements, permits, and licenses pertaining to Mauna Kea.
The bill also “requires that revenue derived from activities on Mauna Kea be shared with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs,” and would provide for free access to Mauna Kea, but only “for traditional cultural purposes.”
The Senate Committees on Higher Education and Water and Land will hold a hearing on SB 3090 today at 1:15 p.m. in the Auditorium of the State Capitol.
The University of Hawaiʻi opposes the bill, and has already submitted three official testimonies from different authors.
First, from University president David Lassner:
Chairs Kahele and Rhoads, Vice Chairs Kim and Gabbard, and members of the committees:
Thank you for the opportunity to provide official University of Hawaiʻi testimony regarding SB 3090 Proposed SD1. Respectfully, the University of Hawaiʻi cannot support this bill as written.
It should be noted that due to the extraordinary breadth and severe impact of this bill as written there are multiple UH testimonies today. They all contain information that the Legislature may find useful in its deliberations. This testimony represents our official position.
Fundamentally, we believe this bill is based on a premise that is not correct, that the current management structure has failed and must be completely replaced. In fact, the 2014 State Audit reported that “We found that UH has developed several management plans that provide a comprehensive framework for managing and protecting Mauna Kea while balancing the competing interests of culture, conservation, scientific research, and recreation.”
The complexity of balancing these competing interests is probably more of a challenge on Maunakea than anywhere in Hawaiʻi, and UH has not shied away from its responsibilities over these past years as we have developed plans and subplans with deep community consultation that have been approved by the Board of Regents and Board of Land and Natural Resources in full sunshine. As a result of this work, UH stewardship of Maunakea was honored externally on two occasions in 2017. This included the highest recognition of preservation, rehabilitation, restoration and interpretation of the state’s architectural, archaeological and cultural heritage from the Hawaiʻi Historic Foundation, and the Pūalu Award for Culture and Heritage from the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce.
The extremely critical 1998 Audit was based on an assessment of roughly the first 30 years of stewardship since the beginnings of astronomy on Maunakea. Since that time, UH has created open, transparent and effective processes and we are proud of the dedicated work of our rangers, the volunteer Maunakea Management Board, the volunteer Native Hawaiian advisors of Kahu Ku Mauna, the Office of Maunakea Management and the ʻImiloa Astronomy Center. All of these are part of our work to manage and preserve, to educate and discover. There is of course more to be done and we are actively working every day to continue to improve.
That said, UH has also consistently and publicly expressed our willingness to consider alternate models of management. UH agreed to support the Governor’s 10-point plan, which represents a significant change with the return to DLNR of 10,000 acres as requested. UH is in regular conversation with Mayor Kim and we are inspired by his vision to make Maunakea a global examplar of peace and harmony where indigenous culture and the best science in the world coexist synergistically in a truly awesome environment. And when legislators became interested in crafting a completely new approach, we expressed a willingness to consider their proposals. This is all consistent with the formal public position of the Board of Regents, which I wholeheartedly support, to move to a more collaborative model of management that engages more than just the University.
The testimony provided by many others today will point out multiple issues with this bill as written. So we will share here just a handful of key high-level concerns about fundamental approach that appears to underlie this bill as written.
1) Such a bill should establish a clear vision and commitment that astronomy and culture must coexist on Maunakea. Without that fundamental underpinning, whoever is responsible for stewardship will be accused of failure by those who do not accept the vision.
2) The bill would result in a dramatic increase in the cost of management, beginning with all the paid members of the new board, all the new executive positions, and all the new staff to work with the new board and executives. The bill does not explain the questionable premise that all these new costs can be covered by extracting more dollars from a smaller number of observatories and from commercial tourism.
3) The management regime proposed explicitly excludes the involvement of anyone directly engaged in astronomy, education or research relating to Maunakea. We believe that for these enterprises to thrive on the mauna requires expertise and knowledge about them.
4) Finally, the complete exclusion of the University from the education and research mission associated with Maunakea would likely result over the long-term in the loss
of inspiring astronomical science and engineering in Hawaiʻi, and an associated decrease in economic investment and vitality.
Being unable to support this bill as currently written does not mean the University is opposed to change. In fact, the opposite is true and that is why we share these concerns.
At the same time, we are continuing to move forward. Internally, we are now planning some work that will restructure our internal programs to make them more efficient, clear and accountable. We will also increase the synergies between science and culture, including for visitors and workers on the mauna. This restructuring will be led by our new Senior Advisor on Maunakea.
Externally, the Board of Regents recently passed a resolution calling for a more collaborative approach to stewardship, with greater external engagement by other stakeholders. We will continue to engage with the Mayor of Hawaiʻi Island and the Governor around ideas and initiatives for improvement. And we would be happy to engage meaningfully with the Legislature if that is desired.
But please know that we are not sitting idle waiting for the Legislature or the Mayor or someone else to create a path forward for all of us. Even as we collaborate with others, we are working toward the long-term improvements in management that will be needed for the next stages of collaborative stewardship under any model. This is all completely consistent with the activities we must and will undertake as we begin to update the Comprehensive Management Plan for Maunakea, as is necessary for any living document to usefully serve in a highly dynamic and complex environment.
Thank you for this opportunity to provide University of Hawaiʻi testimony on SB 3090 Proposed SD1.
Also speaking against the bill, administrators of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Robert McLaren (Interim Director) and David Lonborg (Interim Associate Director):
Chairs Kahele and Rhoads, Vice Chairs Kim and Gabbard, and members of the committees:
Thank you for this opportunity to offer testimony on SB 3090 Proposed SD1. While UH supports the Legislature’s interest in working with the community toward an inclusive vision for Maunakea’s future and an appropriate collaborative management structure, we cannot support the specific measures being proposed here, and therefore must respectfully oppose the bill in its current (and proposed SD1) form. Our reasons for taking this position are outlined below.
Lack of Justification for Proposed Changes
The bill appears to be based on an assessment that current UH management of Maunakea is not only inadequate but also essentially beyond repair. However, the bill does not mention any specific criticism of UH management, and it offers only a two-sentence justification for the proposed sweeping changes:
Since 1998, four audits by the state auditor have been critical of the management, stewardship, and protection of Mauna Kea. Although significant changes have occurred on Mauna Kea since the 1998 audit, negative experiences over the past 50 years have eroded public confidence and demonstrated the critical need for fresh leadership centered on a new organizational structure, management system and procedures.
A careful reading of the recent audits will reveal that the “significant changes” are in fact ongoing major improvements in management by the University. Granted there is still more to do, but none of these audits suggests that UH is either unable or unwilling to complete these requirements. And none of them suggests that scrapping the current UH management should be considered. So although some individuals may have lost confidence, the auditor certainly has not, and in our experience the vast majority of the general public has not either The controversy over astronomy development, and most recently over the Thirty Meter Telescope, is sometimes cited as a symptom of bad management. We do not agree with this diagnosis. This controversy is very real, but it arises from a fundamental disagreement about the appropriate use of Maunakea, and that is a matter of policy and vision not a matter of management in the usual sense of that term — i.e. where management is the implementation of policy, but not policy itself.
Lack of Vision Regarding the Future of Maunakea
Respectfully, the bill lacks a clear vision of the intended Maunakea future that the new management authority would be expected to promote, nurture, and defend.
The current vision of Maunakea arose in the mid-1960’s, when Governor John Burns responded to an initiative from Hawaiʻi Island residents to establish astronomy on Maunakea as a new source of economic activity after the 1960 tsunami that devastated downtown Hilo. The University was identified as an essential partner in this undertaking, and as the local home for the associated research enterprise. From the outset, the State adopted the policy that if world-class astronomy was to come to Hawaiʻi, then the people of Hawaiʻi, through their University, would be full participants in the scientific endeavor and not simply landlords and bystanders. This basic philosophy led to the creation of the Institute for Astronomy and of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve, with its specified purpose as a University-managed asset for scientific research, in particular astronomy. Accordingly, the relationship between the University and the other observatory organizations was deliberately developed as that of a scientific partnership and only secondarily as a landlord-tenant. Benefitting from this scientific partnership, the University has developed into one of the world’s pre-eminent centers for astronomical education and research. At the same time, the growing quality of the University’s astronomy program and its advocacy for Maunakea attracted the world’s premier new telescopes to Hawaiʻi, the most recent example of course being the TMT.
The Maunakea observatories have played an essential role in almost every major astronomical discovery of the past 40 years. It is the symbiotic relationship between the unique qualities of the Maunakea site and the scientific excellence at the University that has produced the remarkable astronomy development on Maunakea. Without this relationship the initiative started by Hawaiʻi Island residents and championed by Governor Burns might well have failed, and even it had proceeded, the scientific and educational benefits would have gone almost entirely to out-of-State interests. Thanks to the vision of Governor Burns and Hawaiʻi Island residents, astronomy on Maunakea is providing not only the above mentioned intellectual benefits but also a positive economic impact on Hawaiʻi Island amounting to over 800 jobs and $92 million.
We believe that the above vision for astronomy on Maunakea, and especially the essential role played by the University, has served both the people of Hawaiʻi and the worldwide astronomy community very well over the past 50 years. We feel strongly that these key policy aspects should be continued into the future, and we are thus greatly concerned not to see any suggestion of this in the bill. In fact, to the extent that the bill does suggest a vision, it seems to focus on commercialization of the mountain and a landlord-tenant relationship with the entities operating there — something very different from the original Hawaiʻi Island / John Burns concept.
Questionable Proposed Governance and Management Structure
Without a clear vision of the intended Maunakea future, it is simply not possible to define the required governance and management structure, or to establish criteria for assessing that structure’s performance. According to the bill, a key requirement for membership in the proposed Mauna Kea management authority is that the members be what we would describe as disinterested. If a clear vision were defined, then we could accept that a group of disinterested but otherwise capable individuals could provide adequate governance, although a group of stakeholders who are strongly invested in the vision, as is the case with the current Mauna Kea Management Board, would be greatly preferred. But in the context of this bill in its current and proposed form there is no overall clear vision, nor is there any indication of how such a vision would be developed. How would the management authority know what it was expected to achieve? Moreover, given their required lack of association with any of the activities on the mountain it is hard to see how the management board members could craft such a vision and promote it.
A separate substantial concern is that the proposed management organization is very large and would be extremely expensive. Based on our experience with Maunakea, the level of commercialization that would be needed to fund the proposed operation would probably be unachievable, and even if achievable, it would be at a level that would be unacceptable to the local community and could also have a substantial negative impact on natural and cultural resources, and the continuation of world-leading astronomy. Also, the proposal to charge all visitors (other than cultural practitioners) an access fee and to ban the use of all personal vehicles above Hale Pohaku is contrary to the long tradition of free public access. This would almost certainly result in huge community opposition once the ramifications of this proposed policy are fully understood.
Given our concerns, we recommend that a shared vision for the future of Maunakea first be developed and clearly articulated. This is something which is, for example, the goal of the EnVision Maunakea Project. The requirements and performance criteria for a governance and management structure can then be established, and the current UH
management can be assessed in the context of those criteria. At that point all stakeholders will be in a much better position to determine what changes might be desirable.
Members of the UH community are committed to working openly and collaboratively on legislative, executive and community initiatives. As noted in the Board of Regents resolution on Maunakea adopted last year, UH believes that Maunakea can and should be a global model that provides inspiration, harmony and peaceful co-existence among culture, education, the environment and scientific discovery. UH works hard every day to achieve this.
Thank you again for the opportunity to offer testimony on this measure.
Finally, testimony from University of Hawai‘i at Hilo interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai, and Stephanie Nagata, the Director of the Office of Mauna Kea Management:
Chairs Kahele and Rhoads, Vice Chairs Kim and Gabbard, and members of the committees:
On behalf of the Office Mauna Kea Management (OMKM), thank you for the opportunity to testify on SB 3090 Proposed SD1.
OMKM continuously seeks to enhance and advance its management of the University’s managed lands on Maunakea, just as this bill seeks good stewardship of Maunakea. However good intentioned this bill is, however, OMKM finds that in its current iteration the bill does not establish the right model for stewardship of Maunakea. Briefly, the bill does not establish better mechanisms for better stewardship of Maunakea. As proposed the bill does not: 1) provide clear reasons that support the need for the establishment of a new management authority for Maunakea; 2) describe the purpose, mandate, objectives and goals of this authority; 3) demonstrate how this new authority will be self-sustaining while protecting cultural, natural and scientific resources; and 4) show how a new management authority with no clear direction will be better than what currently exists. Finally, this bill is overly broad in that it provides sweeping authority to a management agency that has no built-in checks and balances.
OMKM works diligently to protect the cultural, natural and scientific resources on Maunakea. It does so not by carrying out the wishes and demands of the University, but to the contrary, OMKM employs a collaborative management structure that is community-based and community driven by volunteers who live on the Big Island and who understand, are sensitive to and concerned about Maunakea. Just as astronomy on the mountain began as an initiative by the Big Island community, so is the management of the mountain. The management of Maunakea since the year 2000 is under the direction and guidance of the Maunakea Management Board (MKMB) and native Hawaiian Kahu Ku Mauna Council, both composed of volunteers from the Big Island community. Contentions that the University continues to mismanage the mountain unfairly denigrates the community members who dedicate countless hours of their time and effort to see that Maunakea is properly managed.
OMKM has and will continue to work collaboratively with all community, executive and legislative stakeholders concerned with proper management of the mountain.
Respectfully, however, we do not support SB 3090 proposed SD1, in its current form given the above concerns.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to comment on this bill.