(BIVN) – The ownership of the Mauna Kea Access Road was debated at the State Capitol on Wednesday, as the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands provided an informational briefing to the Senate Committee on Hawaiian Affairs.
The Mauna Kea Access Road was closed by the State of Hawaiʻi on July 15 in order to facilitate the transportation of heavy machinery up the mountain in order to begin construction on the Thirty Meter Telescope. But opponents of the TMT project took control of the road before crews could make the ascent, and they have held it ever since.
The state says the road is under the jurisdiction of the Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation after being transferred to the state, but the true ownership of the road has been questioned by Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiaries for some time, who know that there are strict procedures, and usually consultations, for transferring trust lands out of the Hawaiian Homes inventory.
Hilo State Senator Kai Kahele, who serves as vice chair of the committee, questioned DHHL chair Bill Aila on the matter. “I believe the Mauna Kea Access Road is part of the Hawaiian Homes land trust, and still remains as part of the land trust, and any [Memorandum Of Understanding], any transfer, we should look into,” Kahele said.
Kahele has been supportive of the kiaʻi who are standing in opposition to the TMT, and has gone to visit them on the Mauna Kea Access Road on more than one occasion, even presenting hoʻokupu to the kūpuna tent.
“We never even did a land exchange,” Kahele told Aila. “I don’t know if we did beneficiary consultation, I don’t know if we did an appraisal on the property, but we never even satisfied that obligation of doing a land exchange. Show me what piece of land came back into the trust in return for the Mauna Kea Access Road.”
Also discussed was the application of Act 14, enacted in 1995, that provided $600 million, in $30 million annual installments, for the past usage of DHHL land.
“What I’m being advised is Act 14, as it was passed by the state legislature, concluded the negotiations,” Aila said. “You have the same attorneys that we have. I’m getting advice from them that this is completed. I just have to finish the negotiations.”
“We have to step back and make a distinction between the road as an improvement and or a piece of infrastructure, sort of like a power line or a water line, and the actual fee to the road,” said deputy attorney general Ryan Kanakaʻole. “The Department of Hawaiian Homelands owns the fee to the road.”
“When you have a beneficiary as defined by the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 sitting on the Mauna Kea Access Road, what does not give them the right to be there?” Kahele questioned.
Big Island Video News will be posting more from this discussion as it relates to other aspects of the situation on Mauna Kea.