HILO, Hawaii — Management of Mauna Kea would be broadened beyond the University of Hawaii, criticized for its handling of the land during the controversy over the Thirty Meter Telescope, and handed over to an “umbrella agency” that also includes state departments and Native Hawaiian organizations under a proposal being drafted by Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim.

Gov. David Ige said he supports the idea of changing management of the mountain, but many details still must be worked out.

Kim outlined parts of his proposal in an interview with Civil Beat Tuesday. He said he plans to unveil the full proposal by the end of next week.

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim plans to release a full Mauna Kea plan by the end of the week. Blaze Lovell/Civil Beat/2019

Part of that proposal, which he was charged with creating by Ige in February, includes giving multiple agencies and groups a stake in deciding what happens on Mauna Kea. This could include the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Royal Order of Kamehameha I, Kamehameha Schools and others.

“That way, they can control and develop it the way people want it to be developed,” Kim said.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Ige called the plans preliminary, but in general said he’s receptive to the idea of changing the management structure.

“I think the general consensus is that we are open to changing to a different kind of management structure,” he said. “We haven’t really talked about the details of what that would look like, who would be involved. We’ve spoken about having representation from Native Hawaiians. We haven’t been specific on who or what organizations and those kinds of things.”

Ige added that such a change would require legislation.

“There’s just a lot more work to be done,” he said.

UH would still have a say in managing Mauna Kea, Kim said.

As it is, control of Mauna Kea’s lands is divided among several state departments, with UH managing the summit, where several observatories do astronomical research. Kim hopes that giving other interests a say would help improve the mountain’s management, avoiding some of UH’s shortcomings as documented in several state audits. 

Kim, who supports construction of the TMT, said he wanted more time to come up with a plan but needed to finish quickly because the issue of whether the telescope will be built on Mauna Kea or in Spain’s Canary Islands will be decided soon.

“I had a feeling that we might lose this opportunity,” Kim said. “Some might say that’s what we want, but I don’t think that’s best for our future.” 

For Kim, it’s about diversifying the economy and not becoming too dependent on tourism.

Kim said that his proposal is not meant as a compromise with protesters who want to block construction.

“I hope we find a way forward. I firmly believe this telescope is a gift,” Kim said. “But how we use it will make a difference.”

He held two meetings on the issue, but without TMT representatives or protest leaders.

However, he said that he has met with protest leaders several times over the years including since the conflict began anew in July. He’s also made several visits to Mauna Kea to meet the activists.

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