Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023|
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Big Island residents might get more of a say over what happens on Maunakea under a new proposal in the state Legislature.
Senate Bill 265, introduced by Oahu Sen. Kurt Fevella, a Republican, would require that any action by the state or University of Hawaii involving the Maunakea Science Reserve on the summit receive public approval through a referendum of all adult residents of the Big Island.
“We need more transparency on the mauna,” Fevella told the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday. “Anything to do with Maunakea over the last 50 years, Big Island residents aren’t told about what’s going on.”
The bill states that any project on the science reserve that involves “a change in land use by the university or the construction of a new project, execution of a new lease, or extension of a new lease” must provide public notice within 30 days of filing the permit application and conduct at least three public meetings within four months of that application.
After those meetings, UH would be required to hold a referendum about the project, at its own expense. Should a majority of respondents in that referendum vote against the project, it will be denied.
Fevella said there are currently no state laws that similarly require a full countywide community vote for a project to be approved.
The bill is textually identical to a bill Fevella introduced in 2021 and therefore makes no mention of the Maunakea Stewardship and Oversight Authority, a state entity formed last year to eventually take over management of the science reserve from UH in five years.
John Komeiji, chair of the new Authority, said he believes the bill would set further limits on the powers of the agency but added that the full board has not yet formulated a position on the measure.
“I would guess that it would, by definition, take away some of the Authority’s decision-making power,” Komeiji told the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday. “If the people vote against something that the Authority wants to do, then that would be it.”
But Komeiji added that part of the purpose of the Authority was to establish greater transparency between summit projects and affected communities.
Although the 2021 bill made no progress in either the pandemic-curtailed 2021 or the 2022 legislative session, Fevella said he thinks it will be passed.
“I don’t see why it wouldn’t be passed,” Fevella said. “It should be our responsibility as lawmakers to make sure that people on the Big Island know what’s going on on Maunakea.”
Outside of Maunakea, the bill also would require referendums for any changes in land use proposed by the Hawaiian Homes Commission or the Departments of Land and Natural Resources and Hawaiian Home Lands. Unlike the Maunakea referendum, these votes would only be among adult residents living within five miles of the affected land.
SB 265 has been referred to six joint Senate committees. It has until March to pass them and cross over to the House.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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