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Observatories on Maunakea
(Photo courtesy: W.M. Keck Observatory)

In a letter to the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Center for Maunakea Stewardship (CMS) is proposing an orderly withdrawal of numerous Maunakea permits and agreements should a bill that establishes the Maunakea Stewardship and Oversight Authority (MKSOA) become law. Gov. David Ige is currently reviewing House Bill 2024 HD1 SD2 CD1 that transfers control of approximately 11,378 acres of state land on Maunakea to the new oversight authority.

“Our proposal strives for consistency with state law and CD1,” said CMS Executive Director Greg Chun in the May 30 letter to DLNR. “These actions must start as soon as the bill is enacted to ensure a smooth transition to the MKSOA, which is established on July 1, 2022, and has the authority to act through its board starting July 1, 2023.”

CD1 states (Part II Section 7) that on “July 1, 2028, all rights, powers, functions, and duties of the University of Hawaii relating to the powers and responsibilities granted to the Mauna Kea stewardship and oversight authority . . . are transferred to the Mauna Kea stewardship and oversight authority,” and that upon such assignment, UH “shall be released from any and all obligations under the state lease . . . and under any conservation district use application permits appertaining thereto….” Understanding that these “transfers” and “releases” are not self-actualizing and that the legal framework created by CD1 is unprecedented, the May 30 letter calls for orderly transition to ensure proper stewardship of Maunakea.

The letter provides a detailed list of permits and agreements for withdrawal including two general leases and a road easement equal to approximately 11,378 acres, nine Maunakea Observatory (MKO) subleases and 18 Conservation District Use Permits with approximately 300 conditions issued to UH by the Board of Land and Natural Resources. In addition, there are approximately 20 conservation district use permits and approvals issued to UH by DLNR to be transferred, which include additional stewardship obligations. The letter also reaffirms UH President David Lassner’s commitment to continue the university’s stewardship responsibilities during the transition period.

“Until the MKSOA has established itself, and assuming MKOs continue to contribute their pro rata share of funding to stewardship, we will continue to oversee the Maunakea Rangers, clear the roads for public passage, and maintain the operations at the Mid-Level Facilities, which include the Visitor Center,” said Chun in the letter to DLNR. “I look forward to working with you and your department to achieve a smooth transition should this bill become law.”

The university plans to retain its permits and real property interests for UH facilities on Maunakea, which include three astronomy facilities and network infrastructure. CMS stopped sublease negotiations and its work on a new general lease and the associated environmental impact statement after the state Legislature passed the bill. The decommissioning of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory by Caltech and Hōkū Keʻa by UH Hilo continues as required by UH subleases and the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR). These are scheduled to be completed in 2023.

On May 24, the UH Board of Regents approved an updated Comprehensive Management Plan as required by the Board of Land and Natural Resources for allowing astronomy facilities in the conservation district on Maunakea. The plan now goes to the Hawaiʻi Board of Land and Natural Resources for final approval. If approved, the new authority may use this plan and the Master Plan (E Ō I Nā Leo (Listen to the Voices)) recently adopted in January 2022 by the UH Board of Regents, to inform its own planning process under the bill and to meet the regulatory obligations it will take over from UH, including the adoption and enforcement of administrative rules pertaining to Maunakea stewardship.

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