Meet the Mauna Kea Hui - Kukauakahi (Clarence Ching)

Posted by Lauren Muneoka at Aug 14, 2011 05:43 AM |
Hui member and petitioner Clarence Kūkauakahi Ching talks about why he is opposed to the TMT.

On August 15-18th, the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) will hear the case against granting a Conservation District Use Permit (CDUP) to build the proposed Thirty-Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. The hearing itself is open to the public -- we hope you will join us. It will be held at the Hilo State Building. Our own Marti Townsend, will be presenting arguments alongside other long-time advocates for Mauna Kea– Kealoha Pisciotta, Clarence Kūkauakahi Ching, Paul Neves, Deborah Ward, and, representing the Kalani-Case ‘Ohana, E. Kalani Flores. We are posting a series of blogs authored by these petitioners themselves. The first of this series is the following from Clarence Kūkauakahi Ching (Uncle Kū).

I am Kukauakahi (Clarence Ching) and I'm a cultural practitioner on Mauna Kea. My cultural practice extends to many other places around the island of Hawai'i and across the archipelago. Sometimes I'm referred to as "ku - the old man of the mountain." While I don't confess to be an "old" man, I'm probably one of the older people actively involved on Mauna Kea and/or its cultural practices. This is not to say that one has to go up to the mountain to be a Mauna Kea practitioner. I have a background in science (B.S. in chemistry (major), zoology (minor), business (trained on Wall Street as a stock broker and a former MBA candidate, completing more than 2/3s of requirements), law (J.D. degree) and I'm a former Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) trustee. My cultural activities are taken very seriously.

Part of my individual cultural practice on Mauna Kea - and on the rest of the island - is to be able to walk in the footsteps of the ancestors. By stepping into their footsteps - one can almost literally connect to one's genetic and cultural roots. To be able to do so is an amazing experience.

In 2002 and 2003 - I led a group of hikers on Hawai'i island, touching three different shores, by way of the summits of the two big mauna, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, starting at sea level at Koholalele Landing at Kukaiau on the Hamakua coast to the summit of Mauna Kea then returning to sea level at Luahinewai at Kiholo Bay on the Kona coast, and from the summit of Mauna Kea to the summit of Mauna Loa then down around Kilauea to sea level at Ke'auhou Landing in the so-called "national" park. We hiked on both traditional and modern ala hele (trails) and roads.

Since that time, we have also connected na pu'u to the kai at numerous other locations - via Saddle Road to Hilo and Kawaihae and through Ahu A 'Umi to Ke'auhou on the Kona coast. Although my practice encompasses the entire island, its center and nucleus is Mauna Kea. There are probably less than a handful of people on this island who have ever been able to take part in these wonderful experiences. This is why, among other things, protection of our cultural and traditional things, such as trails and other cultural and natural resources, need to be protected for future generations. It is my hope that we may inspire our young people so they too can follow in our footsteps and experience the greatness of our ancestors.

We have connected all points between Hilo, along the Hamakua coast, through Waimea, all the way to Kailua. We have also hiked from Keahole (vicinity of Kona airport) down the South Kona coast past KaLae (South Point) to Ka'alu'alu. Eventually, in experiencing a comprehensive and intimate connection with the entire island, we will have circumnavigated the island and crossed it many times.

The views (of at least 240 degrees of arc) from the summit of Pu'uPoliahu will be substantially impacted if the proposed TMT is built. This loss is cumulative as it includes the prior loss of a 360 degree view arc from Pu'uKukahau'ula (now restricted by existing observatories) that adds up to an unacceptable impact of immense proportions to Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners such as myself and the general public. Because the proposed TMT Project is projected to continue beyond the expiration date of the master lease (2033), these views will be lost for perhaps as long as 50 years. This is unacceptable.

When I ascend Pu'uPoliahu on Thursday, August 11, on a site visit in conjunction with the TMT Contested Case Hearing, it will probably be the last opportunity for me to be able to ascend the pu'u on my own power and to be able to enjoy this view plane. In 2033 - at age 97, I may not be able to do so. This is because - if TMT is eventually built and if it is allowed to remain on the mountain for its designed life (50 years - although the general lease ends in 2033, at which time all telescopes are supposedly to be de-commissioned).

What a TMT building permit will amount to, is really a taking, an unreasonable taking of the rights and resources of us all - that is - of our rights to fully enjoy these resources including that of the view planes and open space resources, and the natural beauty of Mauna Kea.

Even if I were alive in 2033, it would be an impossibility for me to experience a Pu'uPoliahu view - as the present 4-wheel drive road will be long gone (according to present University and DLNR plans). So - looking forward - What is a cultural practitioner to do? And what about the contnuing erosion of our rights?

As my cultural practices take me to many locations on the summit - and in fact over the entire mountain and island - the construction of the TMT is going to force me to modify my practices- even those that presently allows me to assess the great spiritual mana of the mountain from sea level. Having to use alternative views is evidence that the astronomy observatories have materially restricted such views and have forced practitioners to modify their activities to new and different locations. Of course, the TMT Observatory corporation says that it will only incrementally add to the hewa and so by using the magic word "incrementally," its construction should be allowed. Today, I am able to go up the mountain and enjoy these already modified views, but if the TMT is built, my grandchildren will not be able to enjoy the same experience until they are middle- or old-aged. This is not right. Our practices are being forcibly modified and, in some cases, eliminated altogether.

It is unfortunate that typical western thought and philosophy dwells mainly on the physical aspects of things. For instance, in the laws and regulations that mandate the elements necessary to be considered on whether a proposed development should be allowable or not - it is the physical that is considered - things that can be seen or touched . There is nothing mentioned about intangibles. This is completely wrong as Hawaiian cultural practice is heavily weighted on intangible aspects.

In Hawaiian cosmology - intangibles, as it applies to cultural beliefs and practices, are a major, major consideration. Surely, intangibles are difficult to qualify and quantify. But - who said it must be easy? The most fundamental and basic beliefs that are instilled into Hawaiians from infancy onwards have everything to do with intangibles. This is a major fault of statutory law or the rules and regulations of DLNR.

Switching the subject a bit. We were camped at the 10,000 foot level on the Umikoa Trail the night before our near final ascent of the mountain. We were clearly within the allowances of the "Law of the Splintered Paddle " - "Let every elderly person, woman and child lie by the roadside in safety." It was an awesome sight, as, after our tents were put up, and we were about to have dinner - that the Goddess Lilinoe's fog came, almost stealthily, meandering through the campground to assess our activities. After satisfying herself, in a few moments, Her mists left us, moving further on down the mountain. After hiking from the 5,000 foot level of the Keanakolu 4-wheel drive road to this level of the mountain (10,000 feet) - we were tired - and looking forward to the next day's hike to the 13,000 foot level at Pu‘u Lilinoe.

The hike up the slopes of Pu‘u Makanaka, between Pu‘u Ala and Pu‘u Poepoe and across the plateau was extremely vigorous. In fact, I hit the wall at Pu‘u Lilinoe and I was forced to having to catch my breath for at least 5 minutes after every incremental 20 paces or so. We reached the Mauna Kea Access Road just below Pu'u Lilinoe at the very moment of sunset.

Negotiating the 13,000 foot level of Mauna Kea is not child's play. The point is - that neither my feelings about Lilinoe and her many blessings, or the feeling of awe from the sunset on the plateau are necessarily measurable (hence intangible), and they are not protected in the way that the laws protect the "tangible" open spaces and our right to access areas in order to enjoy these kinds of experiences. It is hoped that the Hearings Officer will take into his purview those elements of federal law having to do with intangibles during the site visit (although the site visit will already have taken place by the time this testimony is given) and his deliberations to follow.

Getting back to the subject, the suggestion and plans of UH/TMT to bait the CDUA process in an attempt to “mitigate” important aspects of the Project by inserting gobs of money (like the THINK project of $1 Million a year that will not be going into the State's general fund as required by statute) into the process, but NOT in the form of legally required statutory rent, is problematic in and of itself.

But a more fundamental problem is that the UH/TMT Corporation (TMTC) admits that the Project is far from being fully funded. In other words, it doesn't have the funds to even complete half the project, yet BLNR has tentatively approved its CDUA. Is such an action prudent and acceptable? Alternatively, if sufficient funds for construction is not presently in hand, but if by some miracle the Project is completed, the further problem of obtaining necessary operational funds rears its ugly head. Does TMTC and the University have alternative plans? What happens if the TMT construction is begun - resulting in irreparably damage to the sacred landscape and other resources - but than is unable to be completed—Who will be responsible for remedying this white elephant? The citizens of Hawai'i, through the University?

In these precarious economic times, having viable alternatives, which in this case there are none, should be the mode. Would the absence of such plans constitute a fraud and deception on the taxpaying citizens of Hawai'i that, in addition, irrevocably results in the loss or permanent damage of protected resources?

The TMT project is being treated as if it were happening in one instant - with all dynamic aspects of world economics frozen in time. During these times of financial turmoil, many substantial things could happen during the course of a 7 year period of construction. The U.S. dollar could collapse and rampant inflation could occur, causing huge overruns of the budget. Unless protections and valid alternatives are built in - TMTC and the University could very well find themselves on the short end of the economic stick, with no way to complete the project. Calamities could occur, such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan that will surely have a negative effect on that country's ability to participate in this project. These considerations become obviously important in the CDUA process when the CDUP would require the participants to comply with all applicable laws, including the mandate for de-commissioning and restoration of the landscape to its original state. On the other hand, performance of a corporate entity with no credit history and no financial guarantees by its individual members leaves the state taxpayers in a very precarious financial position of risk. The lack of viable alternatives and possible guarantees by TMTC's members may easily leave the State of Hawaii holding the proverbial bag. This is unacceptable.

Lastly, it seems to be brazenly bold to make the following statement in a legal document like the CDUA - 'TMT remains committed to paying a "substantial" amount for sublease rent. The rent would be deposited into the Mauna Kea Land Fund, and only used for management of Mauna Kea.' This seems to be an outright violation of the statutory requirement that all rents from the so-called "ceded" (stolen lands of the Kingdom of Hawaii), after fair, arms' length negotiations resulting in payment of fair market value, be paid into the State's general fund. Unless there is a legal exception to this requirement, the funds in question are being misappropriated - an intentional and substantial non-compliant violation of state law.

Thank you and Aloha Mauna Kea.

Read the other petitioner vignettes here:

Kealoha Pisciotta
Deborah J. Ward

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