UH renewing pursuit of master lease for Maunakea

The University of Hawaii is restarting its effort to gain a new master lease for Maunakea that would allow observatories to continue beyond 2033.

That process was put on hold twice, first in 2013 to allow for an environmental impact statement and two years later because of controversy surrounding the Thirty Meter Telescope. That $1.4 billion project is back in the hands of the state Supreme Court after completing a second contested case hearing last year.

ADVERTISING


UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said an EIS notice could be published later this month, starting the public comment period. He said open houses on the issue will take place in Hilo, Waimea and Oahu.

He said UH needs to get this going so that telescopes, which hold subleases with the university, have some certainty about their future. But Meisenzahl noted the university remains open to ideas about doing things differently.

“Great work has been done and we hope we can build on that work,” he said, referring to the role of UH-Hilo’s Office of Maunakea Management. “It’s not all or nothing as far as the current management structure. What’s the best thing for Hawaii Island, for astronomy on Maunakea? What’s the best thing for the mountain? We want to find a way.”

The planning document will look at three alternatives that will address UH seeking a new lease for the entire 11,288-acre Maunakea Science Reserve plus the Halepohaku midlevel facilities, the 525-acre astronomy precinct and support facilities, and no action, which would mean allowing the lease to lapse.

Returning 10,000 acres outside the astronomy precinct to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources was part of Gov. David Ige’s 10-point plan for Maunakea, issued in 2015.

Ige told the Tribune-Herald that he thinks limiting UH’s role to the astronomy area is still the right decision.

“Most of the most important cultural sites on Maunakea are not part of what the university would need for astronomy,” he said.

“What we would want to make clear if we separate those items is that we could have (a cultural) advisory committee that would really be looking at those lands and those sites.”

Ige anticipates that state-level committee, which hasn’t yet been formed, would assist DLNR. A similar committee, known as Kahu Ku Mauna, currently advises the OMKM board of directors, which consist of Hawaii Island residents.

ADVERTISING


Still, Ige said he doesn’t think moving cultural and resource management duties to DLNR would mean less local control since he anticipates the state’s advisory group would consist mostly of residents from the island.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.