A pair of resolutions was introduced Friday on the floor of the House of Representatives to form on working group on the management of Maunakea.
The resolutions were expected. House Speaker Scott Saiki said in the Feb. 2 floor session that it’s time to replace the University of Hawaii as the manager of Maunakea. He added at that time that a resolution would be introduced later.
Saiki also said the university should stop its pursuit of renewal of its master lease for the Big Island mountain, home of Hawaii’s world-class astronomical observatories.
That lease expires in 2033.
House Resolution 33 and House Concurrent Resolution 41 — introduced by Rep. David Tarnas, a Democrat who represents North and South Kohala and a portion of North Kona — describe the working group’s purpose as “to develop recommendations, building on the findings of the Independent Evaluation of the Implementation of the Maunakea Comprehensive Management Plan, for a new governance and management structure for Maunakea that collaboratively engages with all stakeholders, particularly the Native Hawaiian community.”
Tarnas is the chairman of the House Committee on Water and Land and has, in his words, “a background working in conflict resolution related to land use issues.”
He told the Tribune-Herald Friday Saiki requested Tarnas take the lead on the issue “as a subject matter chair,” and noted “Maunakea is of great significance to my district.”
Two important astronomical observatories atop the mountain, W.M. Keck Observatory and Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, have their headquarters in Waimea, South Kohala, as does the International Lunar Observatory Association.
Both resolutions have been referred to a joint hearing, still to be scheduled, of Tarnas’ committee and the Committee on the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs, which is chaired by Rep. Mark Nakashima of Hamakua.
The Maunakea plan evaluation, prepared by the economic development consulting firm Ku‘iwalu for the Department of Land and Natural Resources and published in 2020, found, according to the resolution, “that a lack of genuine consultation with the Native Hawaiian community has resulted in greater mistrust of the University of Hawaii and management of Maunakea, leading to polarization between various stakeholders on Maunakea and our communities.”
The working group would be comprised of a chairperson appointed by the House speaker; three House members appointed by the speaker; seven members who are Native Hawaiians to be nominated by Native Hawaiian groups, organizations or communities and appointed by the speaker; one representative from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs; one representative from the Board of Land and Natural Resources; one representative from the University of Hawaii Board of Regents; and one representative from Maunakea Observatories.
That group would be tasked with a report to the Legislature about its findings and recommendations, including any proposed legislation, by Dec. 31.
“I’ll note … the resolution does not tell UH to stop its work. I know the speaker said that,” Tarnas said. “I will emphasize in our hearings that the working group is to do its job independently, and is not to undermine the UH’s ongoing efforts to update the management plan and master plan, complete the (environmental impact statement), or submit their request to the Land Board for extension of the master lease.
“I really want this to be run in parallel, and that we provide our recommendations to the Land Board and the Legislature by the end of the year, so it’s in time for the decisions to be made.”
Maunakea was the site of protests and arrests in 2019, as opponents of the $2.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope project staged a massive blockade of the access road, stalling construction activities for months before winter — and then the coronavirus pandemic set in.
Saiki said in his Feb. 2 floor statement those invited “to have a seat on the table and be a part of the discussion” will include “ku kia‘i Maunakea.”
Kia‘i, which means “protector,” is a word TMT opponents use to describe themselves.
One of the leaders of the kia‘i, Noe Noe Wong-Wilson — an academic, Hawaiian cultural practitioner and executive director of the nonprofit Lalakea Foundation — said the resolutions appear to be “pretty straightforward on what the speaker of the House said he was intending to do.”
“I like the fact that there’s more than just one seat for Native Hawaiians,” Wong-Wilson said. “I think that’s the first time there’s an attempt for the table to be set this way, and I’m really pleased to see that.”
Wong-Wilson said her “personal hope” for the working group would be the development “of an alternative to the university being the manager of the summit area of the mountain.”
“I think they have an inherent conflict of interest,” she said. “So, to have a different scenario for the management up there or the management organization would be a better situation for us to make sure that the mauna gets taken care of properly.”
Spokespersons for the University of Hawaii and the Maunakea Observatories said Friday they weren’t yet prepared to comment on the resolutions.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: A quote from Noe Noe Wong-Wilson has been corrected in this story.