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Chun reiterates UH support of astronomy on Maunakea is not a conflict of interest

  • CHUN

The University of Hawaii’s management of and support for astronomy on Maunakea does not represent a conflict of interest, reiterated UH officials during a board meeting Tuesday.

During a meeting of the Maunakea Management Board, Greg Chun, UH’s executive director of Maunakea Stewardship, advised the board that an upcoming working group to explore possible alternative management structures for the mountain could present “issues” for UH and suggested that fellow board members preemptively discuss those issues ahead of time.

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“Just as an example, one item that I’ve identified as an issue that will likely come up, and I understand why, is the point that has been made by some folks that UH holding the master lease puts it in a conflict-of-interest position because of our intention to support astronomy on Maunakea,” Chun said. “We believe that it’s not a conflict because we’re being asked to implement a state policy that supports astronomy on Maunakea.”

The working group will consist of 15 members representing state agencies, the Maunakea Observatories and Native Hawaiian organizations. Only four members have been identified, but one of those four will be UH-Hilo Chancellor Bonnie Irwin.

Chun said the Maunakea Management Board will provide input about potential working group issues to Irwin throughout the next several months, although he added he is still unsure whether the group will ever formally convene.

Last week, the deadline for Native Hawaiian groups to nominate Native Hawaiian members for the group was extended from April 5 to April 26 in order to coincide with the completion of the legislative session.

The state House resolution that formed the working group called for it to present its findings to the Legislature no later than the end of 2021.

The working group was created in response to an independent review of UH’s success in implementing its Comprehensive Management Plan. That review was critical of the university’s communication — or lack thereof — with Native Hawaiian groups.

While the resolution, which passed in early March, was not well received by Native Hawaiian groups — who largely felt it was disingenuous and stacked against their interests — it also received pushback from Chun himself.

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During a February hearing, Chun testified that he thinks it is unfeasible that any recommendations from the group will be implemented and that basing the group on the independent evaluation of the Comprehensive Management Plan is “unbalanced” against UH.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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