Protect Mauna Kea Summit Natural Area Reserve

Posted by kahea at Oct 22, 2008 11:47 PM |

The Mauna Kea Ice Age Natural Area Reserve protects a unique and threatened mountainous desert habitat and Hawaii’s only alpine lake, Lake Waiau. The reserve includes the largest adze quarrry in the Pacific, ancient and modern burials, and Queen Emma’s shrine. These are public trust lands–Hawaiian lands held by the state in public trust for the people of Hawaii.

Now, with only 5 days notice to the public, the Land Board has announced they will consider giving away authority to manage Mauna Kea’s Ice Age Natural Area Reserve to the primary developer of the mountain–the University of Hawaii.

The Land Board will make their decision this Friday. You can click here to tell them: “NO!”

The University has a long-standing interest in developing the public trust lands of the mountain, and benefits financially from the construction and lease of telescopes on Mauna Kea. For 30 years, they have been given free-reign to oversee their own activites with little accountability. Financial interest and lack of oversight have resulted in substantial, significant, adverse impacts to Mauna Kea’s unique and threatened habitats, species and sacred cultural sites.

The reserve lies directly adjacent to the University of Hawaii’s telescope developments. The reserve was created and removed from University control in 1981 because of its significant resources.

The University has long sought more direct control over the mountain. In centralizing oversight under the UH umbrella, they seek to avoid outside accountability, and making future developments easier to push through.

Five Days Notice?
A mere five days public notice is not enough–there can be no true public consultation, community hearings, or public consent to this massive land giveaway in five days!  Which makes us wonder: what’s the rush?

What’s Really Going On?
Today, a new billion-dollar, football stadium-sized telescope is being proposed for the summit–the Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT. The University is seeking more control–and fast–to allow this four-acre development to move forward as scheduled.

In addition to seeking control of the Ice Age Natural Area Reserve adjacent to the telescopes, UH is seeking new legislation giving them rulemaking authority over the entire summit area.

As it stands, a 2007 state court ruling says the Land Board must prepare and approve a comprehensive management plan to protect Mauna Kea’s cultural sites and natural habitats before allowing any more bulldozers. The intent is to allow time and a honest process for charting a future for the sacred summit of Mauna Kea.

Instead, eager to move forward with the TMT, UH is writing one for themselves. In fact, UH has written a whole series of false “management plans” over the past 20 years and set up a hand-picked advisory board they call the “Office of Mauna Kea Management” (OMKM). The 3rd Circuit Court has struck down every one of these previous UH “management plans.” But UH is not taking “no” for an answer.

Today, UH is pressuring the Land Board to approve its latest false “management plan”– to clear the way for the gigantic Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) complex the last undeveloped plateau of Mauna Kea’s summit area.

Public Trust Resources for Public, not Private, Benefit
It is the job of the Land Board to protect, conserve and properly manage the public trust lands in the interest of the public and the Native Hawaiians. This means “conservation over development” is bound in their public duty. They are to be independent public servants, serving the public trust resources which are entrusted to them, for the public interest. Board members cannot have an interest–financial or other–in any decision before them.

The University has no such mandate. The University has deeply entrenched financial interests in the continued development of Mauna Kea. The public trust lands of Mauna Kea are being rented for only $1 a year–far less than the fair market value required by law. Under this sweetheart deal, the University takes the public’s lands and resources and offers them to some of the riches countries on earth. But the Public’s resources are not the UH to give away or sale for their profit and gain.

“[UH] focused primarily on the development of Mauna Kea and tied the benefits gained to its research program… at the expense of neglecting the site’s natural resources.” – State Auditor’s Report

Can’t Win in Court? Try Change the Law in Your Favor–Or Ignore the Law Altogether
In 1968, the people of Hawaii agreed to allow one telescope to be built atop Mauna Kea. Today, more than 50 telescope and support structures cover the sacred summit–built without the consent of Native Hawaiians and local communities. For 30 years, local leaders and organizations have united to defend the once-pristine resources of Mauna Kea’s sacred summit from the harms of uncontrolled telescope expansion. They have successfully upheld the law and stopped several illegal and aggressive UH plans for expanded telescope construction.

The people won and the Land Board and the University lost mulitple times in court. The court has affirmed the Land Board’s duty to protect Mauna Kea. Now, UH is seeking to change the rules to give themselves more direct control of Mauna Kea. The University seeks to create a new bureaucracy under the UH system with authority to “manage” the public trust resources of Mauna Kea, despite their already dismal record.

Conflicts of Interest Result in Poor Oversight and Irreparable Harm
- The Hawai‘i State Auditor found UH’s program of self-oversight “inadequate to ensure the protection of natural resources” and “neglected …the cultural value of Mauna Kea.”
- The Auditor’s report stated the University “focused primarily on the development of Mauna Kea and tied the benefits gained to its research program,” and that its focus on telescope construction has been “at the expense of neglecting the site’s natural resources.”
- A 2005 NASA environmental impact statement (EIS) confirmed that the cumulative impacts of the telescope industry on the cultural and natural resources of Mauna Kea have been “substantial, adverse and significant.”

30 years of University control has endangered and desecrated of one of Hawaii’s most precious and sacred places. Enough is enough! Mauna Kea needs accountable decision-makers and legitimate management.

Public trust resources must be managed by the public agency charged with their care–not to those who have a vested financial interest in more bulldozing.

You can tell the BLNR to: Follow the law and uphold their duty to protect and conserve Mauna Kea against any further development. Vote this co-managment agreement down! Click here to send your letter.

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