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Regents get Maunakea update: UH officials discuss streamlined structure for stewardship of the mountain


Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Changes are coming for Maunakea over the next few years.

The University of Hawaii Board of Regents held a special meeting Thursday to receive an updated draft of a new Maunakea Master Plan, the land use document the university will use to make decisions related to the state lands it leases on the mauna.

A more comprehensive discussion of the contents of the Master Plan draft will take place at the next regular meeting of the board on Jan. 20. However, UH officials took the opportunity to report to the board a range of Maunakea-related updates throughout the UH system.

UH President David Lassner said the majority of the university’s Maunakea stewardship apparatus has moved to Hilo after a restructuring that began last year.

UH-Hilo Chancellor Bonnie Irwin said the restructuring has streamlined a convoluted chain of command that sometimes left staff confused as to who was in charge of any given decision.

Last year, authority over Maunakea support agencies was split between UH-Hilo and UH-Manoa. Now, after the restructuring, the newly formed Center for Maunakea Stewardship governs all of the university’s Maunakea agencies and answers directly to the UH-Hilo chancellor.

“This isn’t to say that the president is washing his hands of the issue,” Lassner said. “It still takes a village … but most of that village is now in Hilo.”

Greg Chun, executive director of the Center for Maunakea Stewardship, said the new Master Plan does not advocate a “grand vision for development of the mauna,” but is a measured plan that makes use of existing resources at the summit and commits to a maximum of nine summit astronomy sites by the end of 2033.

One of those sites may or may not be the Thirty Meter Telescope, Chun said. The new draft of the Master Plan addresses a potential scenario in which the TMT is not built on Maunakea. “If it does not proceed, this Master Plan will continue to guide UH decisions regarding how to use (the planned TMT site),” the plan reads.

Chun said the Master Plan acknowledges the criticism UH has received regarding Native Hawaiian issues in the past, and seeks to incorporate diverse voices in order to guide its decision-making process — although he noted that efforts to include Native Hawaiian cultural perspectives have led to accusations of appropriating said perspectives to pursue the university’s own agenda.

Unlike previous board meetings about Maunakea, public testimony for Thursday’s meeting was nearly universally positive. Dozens of written comments supported the continued presence of astronomy facilities on Maunakea and urged UH and the state to pursue building TMT.

“The majority of people in Hawaii support the TMT and associated Maunakea area management,” wrote Volcano resident Fred Fogel. “Even the majority of people with Native Hawaiian ancestry support the TMT. The UH has addressed the issues well, and should remain the master lease holder for telescope management. It is time we move ahead instead of taking a step into stagnation.”

“Go build a telescope on YOUR HOUSE then,” read a comment by Shanna Souza, one of only three negative comments submitted for the meeting.

In addition to the Master Plan, Chun said an updated version of the Office of Maunakea Management’s Comprehensive Management Plan — which provides UH’s management framework for the land on Maunakea — will be completed by about May of next year. Both the Master Plan and CMP must be updated as part of UH’s efforts to renew its lease of the summit lands, which currently is set to expire in 2033.

Doug Simons, director of UH’s Institute for Astronomy, said the approaching expiration of the lease has put the Maunakea Observatories in an awkward position. Without new land use authorization from the state, the facilities currently on the summit might have to be decommissioned and demolished, meaning they only have about five years left in their de facto lifespan.

Simons said the position of the lease should be more clear within a year, but until then, short- and long-term planning for all the observatories has been thrown into question.

Two facilities are scheduled to be removed from the summit before 2033. Simons said during the meeting that the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory will be the subject of a Board of Land and Natural Resources hearing in early 2022, with deconstruction estimated to begin by the summer and end by the fall.

UH’s educational observatory Hoku Kea is estimated to be fully deconstructed by 2023, Simons said. Next year will see the completion of that project’s environmental assessment and Conservation District Use application.

Replacing Hoku Kea will be a “New Educational Telescope” at a proposed site at Halepohaku, the mid-level facility on Maunakea. Simons said a cultural impact assessment will be made in January, with a final environmental assessment for that project completed in September.

Final construction of the observatory is estimated to be completed by 2025, Simons said.

Email Michael Brestovansky at
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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