Monday, July 04, 2022|
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A bill proposing a new state agency to manage Maunakea lands has passed its final reading in the state Senate.
House Bill 2024 has had a tumultuous journey through the state Legislature, having had several amendments that drastically altered the measure’s scope.
Originally devised using recommendations from a House working group established last year, the bill was intended to develop an alternative management structure for the mountain that would remove the University of Hawaii as the sole steward of the summit lands.
However, in the latest draft of the bill, UH will remain in charge of the 525-acre Astronomy Precinct — where all the Maunakea telescopes are — the mid-level facility at Halepohaku, and the stretch of the Maunakea Access Road between the two.
The remainder of the land above the 9,200-foot level — about 9,450 acres — would be managed by a new entity, the Maunakea Stewardship and Oversight Authority, which would be placed within the UH for administrative purposes.
Greg Chun, executive director of UH’s Center for Maunakea Stewardship, said the new draft of the bill is “a step in the right direction” and concluded it would be “workable” if some additional concerns are ironed out.
“We have been an advocate for a more collaborative stewardship model for years,” Chun said. “And this would help get us there.”
Chun added that, while previous drafts of the bill were unclear regarding what organization would have responsibility for the Master Lease for the state-owned lands, the newest draft makes clear that UH would be responsible for applying for a renewal of the lease of both the Astronomy Precinct and the Oversight Authority’s lands.
This had been a concern of Chun’s about previous drafts. Without a clear answer for what agency would manage the renewal of the lease, the Maunakea Observatories would have had little choice but to prepare for a unilateral decommissioning when the lease ends in 2033. But with UH still responsible for the lease, it can continue to work toward its eventual renewal.
On the other hand, the 9,450 acres the Oversight Authority would manage must be subleased to it by UH, which Chun says raises further jurisdictional questions that will need to be answered.
Chun also said that, because the bill likely will go to conference committees, the bill could still easily revert to a previous version.
“At conference committees, there’s no public input — there’s only legislators in the room,” Chun said. “So, what could happen is it goes back to one of those versions that is a threat to astronomy.”
However, some are calling for just that.
Joshua Lanakila Mangauil, who was a member of the Maunakea Working Group whose recommendations shaped the bill’s first draft, posted a video on Facebook Sunday decrying the latest amendments.
“This completely warps the bill,” Mangauil told the Tribune-Herald Tuesday. “It removes the Hawaiian voice from the part of the summit which is the primary point of abuse.”
Mangauil, who was a leader during the 2019 protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope, called the bill a “win-win-win-win” for UH, which would be allowed to continue to manage the lucrative summit lands while offloading responsibility for the rest of the mountain onto a different entity.
He added that previous drafts at least opened up the possibility for the Oversight Authority to be sustained by rents levied against the Maunakea Observatories, which may not be possible under the current draft.
Furthermore, he said, the bill also codifies “support of astronomy as a policy of the state,” which he said will necessarily conflict with another stated policy of the state, the care of the Native Hawaiian people.
“This isn’t going to remedy anything on the community level,” Mangauil said.
Mangauil said the conference committees should either revert the bill back to one of its House drafts or allow the bill to die entirely by not discussing it.
“My feeling is that the House approach and the Senate approach are so different, they shouldn’t even hear it,” Mangauil said.
During a livestreamed interview Monday, Gov. David Ige mentioned the bill, saying that the current draft is in line with a plan he announced in 2015, wherein he wanted to return more than 10,000 acres of Maunakea land to the Department of Land and Natural Resources, leaving UH only in charge of the Astronomy Precinct.
“And I believe that … many of us in the community would like to see astronomy continue,” Ige said. “There is broad support for the Thirty Meter Telescope. We all know that the university needs to do better, and they are doing better in recent audits.”
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