The University of Hawaii Board of Regents approved a new Mauna Kea master plan detailing how to manage the lands on the tallest mountain in the state. 

The majority of the 11-member panel voted in favor of the plan on Thursday, with Regent Diane Paloma the lone no vote.

The new plan would limit the number of telescopes on Mauna Kea to no more than nine after 2033. Currently there are 13 telescopes on the mountain top. 

“That kind of commitment hasn’t been made in previous master plans,” said Greg Chun, executive director of the UH Hilo Center for Maunakea Stewardship.

This comes after years of pushback from protesters who call themselves protectors of Mauna Kea. And after more than two hours of passionate testimony, the main message was they feel that their voices are not being heard.

Hilo Bay with the majestic view of Mauna Kea with tiny dots on the summit, the observatories.
The Legislature may push to restructure the management of Mauna Kea next session. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

“Mauna Kea is the most difficult topic,” Chair Randy Moore said, adding that Mauna Kea “in some ways is a symbol for injustices.”

The new plan, named “E O I Na Leo” or “Listen to the Voices,” laid out UH’s objectives to continue managing Mauna Kea, maintain the university’s status as a leader in astronomy, expand scientific research beyond astronomy and find balance between research, cultural practice and recreational visits to the mountain.

The plan was developed to replace the 2000 version. Chun said the Department of Land and Natural Resources requires the university to have a master plan “before seeking a new land authorization from DLNR for the continued land use of Mauna Kea.” 

DLNR granted UH a 65-year master lease in 1968. 

Greg Chun, executive director of the UH Hilo Center for Maunakea Stewardship, said the new plan doesn’t approve, adopt or fund new projects or land uses. Screenshot

The plan also envisions repurposing Hale Pohaku, a food and board facility located midway to the top of Mauna Kea, to serve UH programs. 

Chun noted that the master plan doesn’t approve, adopt or fund new projects or land uses. He added that the new plan outlines a review process.  

Chun also said the new master plan is separate from the Thirty Meter Telescope, an astronomy project that was slated to be built on Mauna Kea in 2019, which caused thousands of Native Hawaiian demonstrators to gather in a monthslong protest against its construction.

TMT was one of the concerns brought up at Thursday’s meeting by more than 30 public testifiers who mostly opposed the master plan and voiced their frustrations over the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, issues with the military in Hawaii and more. 

UH English Professor Candace Fujikane said the master plan doesn’t work and “continues to undermine the public trust.” 

“It fails to address a decision-making process from community members who have deep knowledge of ancestral practices of stewardship,” Fujikane said. 

TMT demonstrators chant as State Sheriffs stand on Mauna Kea Access Road. Demonstrators were angry about a gate installed along Mauna Kea Access Road.
In 2019, thousands of Native Hawaiian demonstrators protested against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

However, 150 people submitted written testimony with a majority supporting the master plan. One public testifier was Alan Tokunaga, a former astronomer at UH. 

“I’m saddened by the controversy of astronomy development on Mauna Kea,” he said. “However, stopping the TMT and stopping all the astronomy in Hawaii will not resolve the underlying issues raised by the kiai (guardian)  movement and it will not yield a better future for the next generation.”

Though the board passed the new plan, UH may be stripped of its management authority.  

The House is expected to introduce a bill this legislative session that would remove UH from managing Mauna Kea. 

Last year, a working group led by House lawmakers, created by Speaker Scott Saiki, recommended that oversight of Mauna Kea be governed by a new entity controlled by a nine-member board of mostly Native Hawaiians, Hawaii residents or Hawaiian cultural practitioners.

At the board meeting, UH President David Lassner acknowledged that there is a bill under consideration.

“We will now wait for the legislation, as that becomes introduced, to actively participate throughout the legislative process,” Lassner said. “We don’t know what the outcome will be.”

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