(BIVN) – State lawmakers were recently given an update on the progress of the formation of a new authority that will eventually govern the management of Maunakea.
On Tuesday, the Hawaiʻi House Finance Committee got an update from two members of the new authority, John Komeiji and Noe Noe Wong-Wilson. The state representatives were also given an explanation concerning a request for $14 million dollars in funding for operations.
Komeiji and Wong-Wilson were both appointed to the Mauna Kea Stewardship and Oversight Authority (MKSOA) in September. They are currently serving in an interim capacity, and Komeiji said they are “unsure as to the confirmation process” and when it might occur.
“We have been informed that we can work on formation of the entity,” Komeiji explained, “but that we probably cannot, until July 1st, make any type of substantive decisions” on managing Maunakea.
“It would be unlikely that we would make any substantive decisions, anyway, just because we’re such a brand new entity,” Komeiji added. “But nonetheless we are still limited in terms of the scope of what we’re authorized to do.”
The new authority has already held two meetings. “We’ve established a permitted interaction group to be able to bring some structure, or some recommendations about structure, of the organization,” Komeiji said. “For example, do we have other officers? Do we have subcommittees? Do we have committees? What kinds of rules and regulations do we need to establish for the authority?”
Komeiji said the MKSOA is in the process of hiring an executive assistant that he says was authorized by last year’s legislation creating the Authority. They hope to get that person on board by the end of February.
“The legislature last year gave us $14 million dollars to spend,” Komeiji said, of which $200,000 was authorized “to hire the executive assistant, as well as to reimburse board members for the incidental travel, etc. We’ve probably spent less than a thousand dollars so far, because we haven’t hired anybody, and we’re trying to figure our way through how we reimburse people.”
The Authority is requesting DLNR again allocate $14 million for the upcoming biennial budget, but Komeiji reiterated, “we are not asking for increased amount, we are just carrying over what we believe the current expenses are to protect the Mauna, and to conserve the Mauna.”
Komeiji added that since the new MKSOA is in such a formative stage right now, “we don’t know whether we can” to transfer the duties from the University of Hawaiʻi to the authority in the five years that was given by the legislation. “We don’t know if we can do it in the fiscal year 2024, for example, but we’re still putting in the request for the $14 million dollars in the event that we come to the point… where we think that we can make that transfer.”
Wong-Wilson added that one of the big things that they have come across already is how they will be funding they University employees that currently manage Maunakea. “The fact that those are special funds, which we understand (general) funds will have a difficult time paying for those,” she told the lawmakers. “So we’re in the process of taking a look at that and seeing what kind of solutions we can come up with, suggestions we can come up with, and hope to come back to you in a short time within the next month or so, with some thoughts about how we might better achieve the goals for the authority.”