The following is a transcript for the video article above.
The future management of the summit of Maunakea, an area of deep cultural significance to Hawaiʻi – as well as an international center for astronomy – will be on the table this legislative session.
The State House of Representatives is already taking a position on what should happen in regards to the lands, which are leased by the Department of Land and Natural Resources to the University of Hawaiʻi.
This is what Speaker Scott Saiki said Tuesday on the floor of the House.
SCOTT SAIKI: “As you know, the University of Hawaiʻi has held the master lease to manage the Maunakea astronomy precinct, and the natural and cultural preservation area, since 1968. The master lease is set to expire in 2033, and the university is currently working to extend it. The university has tried to manage Maunakea, but for too long the university’s work has been shrouded by its inability to appropriately manage cultural practices, resources and education. This is why the University of Hawaiʻi must no longer manage Maunakea, and it should cease its work to extend the master lease.”
SAIKI: “The house will introduce a resolution to begin the process of reassessing a new governance structure for Maunakea, and we will invite Kūkiaʻi Maunakea to have a seat at the table, and be a part of the discussion. Maunakea is a manifestation of what happens when we draw lines, work in silos, and disregard different views.”
The Maunakea Management Board, which oversees the University’s role in regards to its mountain lease, met on Tuesday evening.
Greg Chun, the UH Executive Director of Maunakea Stewardship, provided this update on discussions concerning new agreements with existing observatories.
GREG CHUN: “We did reach out last week to the Maunakea observatory directors, requesting their preferences on a process and a structure for how they would like to begin discussions regarding these new agreements. So, I believe they are meeting this week, and will be getting back to us on how they want to start those initial discussions. So we’re not at a point, yet, where any kind of negotiations or anything like that are occurring. We’re really just at the point of, sort of, sharing ideas of what these… new agreements will need to cover.”
ROBERTA CHU: “So when you say ‘agreements’, this is the new or revised lease agreements, right?”
CHUN: “Yeah, you know… we have a preference for moving away from calling these ‘subleases’. So we are probably going to call them something else, still to be determined. So right now we’re just referring to them as agreements.”
Various bills related to Maunakea have already been introduced in this legislative session. For example, the House Water and Land Committee on Tuesday voted in support of a measure, which, if passed into law, will provide that the Board of Land and Natural Resources shall not conduct contested case hearings for land use disputes. Instead, such matters will be taken to circuit court.
The bill was supported by the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce and the Maunakea Observatories. Representatives of the organizations testified at the virtual committee hearing.
WENDY LAROS: “The Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce strongly supports the astronomy industry, and we’re very concerned with the impending master lease renewal. Although the lease expires in 2033, the timeline is condensed due to critical junctures in the sequence of events. This legislation is crucial in creating timely action, as the lease renewal may be subject to a contested case, and lengthy delays would impede the process.”
RICH MATSUDA: “I’m Rich Matsuda, Chief of Operations at the W. M. Keck Observatory, and I’m here on behalf of the Maunakea Observatories in support of House Bill 344. We want to be clear that we strongly support the public’s opportunity to contest decisions on the use of public lands. However, it is crucial that the decisions are timely and we believe this bill can achieve both. The current Maunakea Science Reserve lease expires in 2033 and the renewal of the land authorization under the current contested case process may introduce lengthy delays. A timely land authorization renewal reflecting the state’s long-term commitment to support astronomy is essential.”
The bill was opposed by environmental advocacy groups Life of the Land and Earthjustice, which testified that eliminating the right to an agency hearing, and substituting a court action instead, violates constitutional due process. Earthjustice noted such hearings were purposefully established “to allow a process for agency decisions that is more accessible to the public, including those who may not have legal representation.”
The Water and Land Committee recommended that the bill be passed. House Bill 344 is also scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs, and the Committee on Finance, before it goes to the full house for final reading.