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UH asks state to extend leases at Mauna Kea

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 3:57 a.m. HST, Nov 8, 2013

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii >> The University of Hawaii is asking state officials to extend leases that allow telescopes on Mauna Kea for another 45 years, through 2078.

West Hawaii Today reported Thursday that the state Board of Land and Natural Resources plans to consider the request today in Honolulu.

The university is asking to extend leases for more than 11,000 acres.

Chairman John Holzman of the UH Board of Regents says the longer-term leases are necessary to enter into meaningful negotiations with current and future telescope projects. Holzman says the university is planning to pay management and stewardship costs in part with future subleases.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs says it wants more environmental reviews before new leases are granted.

Chief executive Kamanaopono Crabbe of Hawaiian Affairs said the lease would allow construction and maintenance on sensitive lands for much longer than previously anticipated.

The office is also questioning the length of the lease, saying a 65-year term "may unnecessarily tie the BLNR's hands in ensuring the best and more appropriate use of this culturally and ecologically invaluable area," Crabbe said.

University officials say the only new project planned right now is the Thirty Meter Telescope.

Don Straney, chancellor of the University of Hawaii-Hilo, says the university isn't proposing new construction.

Any project on Mauna Kea will have an impact on cultural practices, according to Theresa Donham, archaeology branch chief for the Big island for the state Historic Preservation Division.

Donham says she wants more public outreach before the board grants the request.

The Big Island's Chamber of Commerce supports the new leases.

"Together, we are taking care of the mountain," the chamber said in a letter.

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