KAHEA's comments on Mauna Kea Working Group's Draft Report

Posted by Lauren Muneoka at Feb 05, 2022 12:10 AM |
Comments of KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance to the State of Hawai‘i Legislature on the Mauna Kea Working Group’s Draft Report, dated December 17, 2021

Mauna Kea Working Group's Draft Report (December 17, 2021)

To whom it may concern,

KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization provides the following comments on the Mauna Kea Working Group’s (Working Group) Draft Report, “He Lā Hou Kēia Ma Mauna a Wākea: A New Day on Mauna A Wakea,” dated December 17, 2021 (draft report).

KAHEA is a community-based organization working to improve the quality of life for Hawaii’s people and future generations through the revitalization and protection of Hawaii’s unique natural and cultural resources. We have been advocating for the protection of Mauna Kea for nearly the entire life of our organization, which was founded in 2000.

1. Recommendations helpfully recognize existing issues, but entrust resolution to a Governor-appointed Entity

The Draft Report recognizes existing management practices do not ensure the observatories: (1) plan for and finance decommissioning and restoration; (2) are held to appropriate standards of “restoration”; and (3) contribute to decommissioning funds. Draft report at 26. The Draft Report also, helpfully, recommends development of “a plan to return the mauna above 9,200 feet elevation to its natural state.” Id. at 25. The Draft Report, however, unilaterally entrusts a new Governing Entity to ensure these are implemented in a timely and meaningful way. This is a mistake as described infra Part 3.

2. No framework to implement traditional kānāwai

The Draft Report describes traditional kānāwai, including Kai‘okia Kānāwai, under which natural boundaries dictated traditions, such that land deemed safe for residential and commercial activity were zoned as wao kanaka, where man could live and work. Other lands were set aside and zoned as wao akua, where human activity was kept to a minimum, either for safety from elemental activity or to keep the area pristine to maintain our natural resources.” Draft report at 5.  Hawaiian practices as dictated by traditional Kānāwai include:  “The height of the mauna sits at an atmospheric level that prohibits occupation. The top is revered and should be treated with utmost reverence. It is the makahiapo or the oldest child and is ʻkapuʻ; therefore, prohibited for occupation.”  Draft report at 14.

These traditional laws prohibit industrial development on Mauna Kea, including existing development. Yet, these traditional kānāwai are only “intended to guide and inform how the [Governing] entity designs and implements its governance and management frameworks; and performs its day to day operations by recentering permissible human use and access activities towards the overall, cumulative health and resilience of Mauna a Wākea.” Draft report at 12. The problem has never been a lack of brilliance or deep knowledge of Hawaiian practitioners as is expressed in the kānāwai shared in the report. The problem has always been the failure of the University and State to relinquish their control over the management of Mauna Kea and their refusal to allow those most knowledgeable to apply that knowledge to the care and protection of this sacred place. Western laws are open to a certain width of interpretation, safeguarded by checks and balances of the coordinate governing branches. Guidance and information have larger spheres of interpretation and lack assurances that they will be implemented. Instead, the Working Group should demand compliance with traditional kānāwai - no further development on Mauna Kea.

3. Remove the Governor’s power to appoint nearly all the members of the Governing Entity

Several years ago in 2018, the senate introduced SB3090, which would have removed UH from its management role over Mauna Kea and installed a governor-appointed management authority in its stead. Legislators introduced the bill after promising community groups that they would not do so. KAHEA joined the calls of caution from community leaders - that UH’s dismal management record should not be a reason to repeat a wrong-headed approach directed at "resolving conflict". Conflict isn't the problem. The problem is over-development on the mauna.

Like the SB3090 Management Authority, the Working Group sets forth parameters for a “Governing Entity,” comprised of nine members, all but one (the OHA CEO) of whom are appointed by the governor. Draft report at 23.  The Governing Entity will be the “sole authority” over management of “state-owned lands above the 6,500 foot elevation line, inclusive of Pu‘u Huluhulu to the summit of Mauna a Wākea.” Id. at 21, 24.

Like the SB3090 Management Authority, this Governing Entity removes protective procedures that are currently in place and could themselves use strengthening. It would provide one-stop shopping for project design review, leasing, conservation district use permitting, environmental impact statement approvals, and any historic preservation or burial treatment impacts review. Instead of the more protective serialized system of approvals from different entities - BLNR, SHPD, DOFAW, Burial Councils, and other agencies - development applicants need only turn to the Governing Entity. Facilitating development on Mauna Kea is the opposite lesson that we should have learned from litigation and contested case hearings on the Thirty Meter Telescope.

More importantly, you cannot present a preformed template and ask the community to trust you to fill in the blanks.  Management and governance of Mauna Kea must proceed from a truly community-based process that builds trust amongst people who have shown their commitment to protecting the mauna, which includes many more than those who served on the Working Group. Build that trust by empowering longtime Mauna Kea protectors from the Royal Order of Kamehameha, Sierra Club of Hawai‘i, Hawaiian charter schools, Mauna Kea Anaina Hou to select Governing Entity members and without requiring the governor’s appointment.

One issue that remains unresolved in the draft report is whether or not a representative from the astronomy industry should be afforded a seat. We strongly oppose this recommendation as the goals and interests of the astronomy industry have been overrepresented on Mauna Kea for the last 50+ years which has caused, “significant, substantial, and adverse harm” to cultural resources. (2005 NASA federal EIS on the Keck Outrigger project). Western astronomy now dominates the summit of Mauna Kea and need not further impose its priorities on this sacred landscape.

We hope that the Working Group deeply revises its recommendations to include: (1) significant, meaningful, and broad based community input prior to the introduction of any legislation; (2) removing the governor’s power of appointment of nearly all the members of the Governing Entity; and, (3) honoring the traditional kānāwai by, first and foremost, prohibiting any further construction – including the Thirty-Meter Telescope – on Mauna Kea.

Me ke aloha,
KAHEA Board and Staff 2022

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