(BIVN) – The Mauna Kea Management Board on Tuesday approved an action item that would establish commercial tour permittee stargazing areas, equipment storage and laydown areas, and traffic delineation in the mid-level area of the mountain.
“A lot of this is – actually, sort of – just formalizing and clarifying what we do,” said Office of Maunakea Management Natural Resources Program Manager Fritz Klasner. “There’s no additional construction or anything that would be involved per se.”
According to a meeting submittal, the Office of Maunakea Management and Maunakea Support Services project will “demarcate certain areas… and ensure continued safe operation and maintenance” of existing:
- Permittee stargazing areas to address permitted capacity limits (for both commercial tour and special request permits),
- equipment storage and laydown areas for Maunakea Support Services (MKSS),
- vehicular and pedestrian areas used by Permittee and facility management staff and partners.
The OMKM / MKSS project, which involves “previously approved and permitted activities” within the Halepōhaku, includes installing “signs, gates, traffic barriers, and portable toilets to manage impacts from activities”, as well as addressing previously identified traffic safety concerns. Managers also plan to “restore lands using native vegetation in areas previously impacted by approved uses.”
According to the submittal:
Stargazing by Permittees on Maunakea (both commercial tours and special requests) is of increasing public interest. In order to ensure that the stargazing which does occur is safe, under the authority of a required permit, and that any potential impacts are appropriately managed and mitigated; explicit designation and demarcation of use areas is needed. Space assignment and allocation determinations of the sites identified in this application will be accomplished through a UH permitted commercial-tour company led decision making process. Signs in existing paved parking areas will inform both Permittees and other parking lot users of restrictions. Sites identified here will only be available for stargazing or other form of group use via a permit.
“16 total stargazing areas are identified in this application to meet permitted demand and existing levels of use within the parcel,” the document states. “There are currently 8 permitted commercial tour operators each with a maximum of 2 vans per night.”
The proposal also plans to undertake traffic, vehicle and pedestrian area demarcation, which includes:
- 5 pipe gates to manage access to the Halepōhaku parcel from the DOT owned access road.
- 4 chain gates, to control access within the Halepōhaku parcel.
- Rocks 2-4 feet in diameter would be spaced no more than 2-feet apart along the perimeter of parking lots and pathways to prevent unauthorized off-road use of vehicles
The gates “do not affect access up to the summit nor do they affect access to the VIS,” Klasner said during the meeting.
“Exactly where is stargazing allowed?” asked MKMB member Doug Simons.
OMKM director Stephanie Nagata said it will be up to Mauna Kea Support Services as to when “public stargazing will start up again” but that will still be within the vicinity of the Visitor Information Station. The VIS is currently closed until further notice.
“The areas that we’re setting aside for the commercial tours is where they will be doing their stargazing” Nagata said, “because they’re not allowed to stargaze at the VIS. They’re clients are not allowed to mingle with the public.”
“A private individual can go pretty much anywhere, and stargaze whenever,” Klasner added. “There’s no restriction.”