Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim is putting future plans for how Mauna Kea will be managed in the hands of the Legislature.
As part of Kim’s plan unveiled Monday, Gov. David Ige and University of Hawaii President David Lassner both pledged to work with lawmakers to come up with a new management structure for the mountain.
The directive is a major point in Kim’s 15-page plan unveiled Monday, which places much of the responsibility on the Legislature for moving forward to end the stalemate over the Thirty Meter Telescope.
Besides that, the plan doesn’t make many new promises. It opens with a timeline of various aspects of Hawaiian culture and moves into rebutting many of the criticisms of the TMT and how Mauna Kea has been managed in the past.
But the building of the TMT is very much the focus of Kim’s plan.
“When respectfully integrated with a comprehensive understanding of Maunakea and Hawaiian culture, astronomy can be such a catalyst for positive and transformational changes in Hawaii,” Kim writes in his introduction to the plan.
In the plan, Kim reiterates various promises like the decommissioning of five existing telescopes by the time TMT is operational and requiring a higher lease payment from the TMT compared to the earlier telescopes. It also lists some benefits that organizations like Maunakea Observatories have had on workforce development, for example.
Kim wraps up the plan with pledges from Ige and Lassner to work with the Legislature on restructuring Mauna Kea’s management.
According to the plan, Lassner commits to establishing a cultural facility on Mauna Kea and setting aside an area on the summit for cultural practitioners. Kim also promises to include Hawaii County in discussions on Mauna Kea management.
Ige asked Kim in July to develop a possible solution for moving forward with the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Protesters have blocked the beginning of work there for over two months.
Kim told Civil Beat in early September that his plan was never meant to be a compromise between the state and TMT’s wishes and the protesters.
House Speaker Scott Saiki said legislators will be open to such a proposal.
“It’s about time we modernize the management structure of Mauna Kea and make it more representative of the large community with a particular emphasis on cultural and resource management,” Saiki said, adding that any discussions of proposals should include legislators.
Saiki said lawmakers should also be open to ideas for Mauna Kea beyond restructuring its management. Senate President Ron Kouchi did not respond to a request for comment on Kim’s plan.
The idea for the bill came from conversations Sen. Kai Kahele had with communities on the Big Island.
“I’ve always been convinced that the current management structure on Mauna Kea has lost the faith and trust of many people throughout our community,” Kahele said in a phone interview Monday.
Kahele said he supports the concept of Kim’s proposal, but noted that there’s still much work to do to hash out all the details.
The 2018 bill proposed a nine-member Mauna Kea Management Authority that includes cultural practitioners and experts in business, education, environment, land management and astronomy.
Five of the members would be Native Hawaiians, and OHA would pick two of them.
That authority would have powers for land planning and leasing, as well as oversight commissioned law enforcement officers with policing powers on Mauna Kea.
The bill would have also given the authority the power to approve and disapprove projects and manage access on the mountain. The bill also proposed transferring title of the lands from the Department of Land and Natural Resources to the new authority.
The Senate passed a version of the measure in 2018, but it was not given a hearing in a House committee. The Senate unsuccessfully tried to revive it late in the session.
The measure died after the two chambers couldn’t come to an agreement in the last days of the session.
Kahele believes that having a new management structure could have potentially avoided the stalemate on Mauna Kea today. He suggested the state call a moratorium on construction in an effort to bring the protesters to the table to discuss the new management structure.
Shortly after the governor appointed Kim to be the point person on Mauna Kea, Kim said he wanted Native Hawaiians to have a say in how the site would be managed.
But Kim’s plan, which largely defends promises made by state agencies as well as TMT project leaders, isn’t likely to budge the camp of activists, who call themselves the kia’i and hold a strategic position at the base of Mauna Kea Access Road.
Leaders of the protest movement have said they won’t accept the building of the telescope on Mauna Kea under any conditions.
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Blaze Lovell is spending a year as a local investigations fellow with The New York Times. He was previously a reporter for Civil Beat. Born and raised on Oahu, Lovell is a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. You can reach him at email@example.com.