Opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope expressed outraged Monday night about rules the University of Hawaii is proposing for Mauna Kea governing public and commercial activity that they said would exempt the university and hurt Native Hawaiians.
Healani Sonoda-Pale, chairwoman of Ka Lahui Hawaii, said UH “wouldn’t even try to promulgate rules if it wasn’t for TMT. There hasn’t been rules for decades since they started doing astronomy on the mauna (mountain).
“They’re trying to push rules now because they want to build TMT.”
UH, which manages the land, held the first of four meetings in Hawaii at Manoa Elementary School Monday to take testimony on the proposed rules, and many attendees held signs and voiced their opposition. Some objected to only one meeting on Oahu, two on Hawaii island and one on Maui but none on the other islands.
The current draft of proposed administrative rules was prepared after feedback from a first round of public hearings last year, and shared with the public during a three-month process that started in January. On April 18, the UH Board of Regents approved holding a second round of public hearings on this version.
The proposed changes include restrictions on commercial tours, limits snow play, prohibits drones and remote controlled terrestrial vehicles, and establishes fines for breaking rules. If approved by the regents, the rules will proceed through the administrative rules process, and go to the governor for final review and approval.
Some Native Hawaiians oppose the telescope project for religious, cultural and other reasons.
Lynette Cruz, president of Hui Aloha Aina o Kalei Maile Alii, said before the meeting, “Our concern is always, does the state of Hawaii have jurisdiction to do anything in terms of development in places considered sacred?
“Americans believe they have the right to do whatever they please,” she said, adding they come with power and money against protectors of what is sacred.
The cultural-recommendation portion of the environmental impact statement for TMT recommended no development, but that was redacted from subsequent versions of the EIS, Cruz said. “Unless the mountain blows up and rains destruction on the telescope, we just have to keep saying no.”
Many testifying said that the rules marginalize Hawaiian practitioners, and accuse UH of being inspired “not by celestial studies, but by money,” as Manu Kaiama, a Hawaiian Studies professor at the UH, said.
They accused UH of pretending to include Native Hawaiians, allocating pennies for scholarships to Hawaiians.
The proposed administrative rules do not directly address the telescope but UH English professor Candace Fujikani said they were written to facilitate the building of TMT. They prohibit removing, damaging or disturbing paleontological, historical and prehistorical remains. Yet UH is leading the charge to do these very things, and the rules exempt UH from these rules, she said.
UH professor Cynthia Franklin said these “proposed rules are rife with hypocrisy. … They protect the telescope, not the mountain.” She said the protectors of the mountain include many UH faculty and students who remain steadfast in their opposition to TMT’s construction and are willing to put their bodies in the way of that construction because it violates academic principles and the cultural rights of kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiians).
She said UH President David Lassner has shown he sides with TMT and fails to respect the views of those in opposition. She objected to Lassner being given the power to administer rules that would criminalize rights to free speech and Native Hawaiians’ rights to protect their sacred mountain.
Mandy Fernandes, policy director of the ACLU of Hawaii, testified that these proposed rules might infringe on the constitutional rights of those seeking access for traditional, customary and religious practices and for those who want to engage in free speech against TMT. The ACLU also objected to the high fines ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 for subsequent violations. The ACLU called it “grossly disproportionate to the underlying offense.”
Greg Chun, senior adviser to UH on Mauna Kea, said the rules apply to public access and commercial activity and that commercial operators, UH and observatories are required to follow other rules, conditions and guidelines that may be even more restrictive. He said the fine schedules in the first draft were significantly reduced.
Luwella Leonardi, 71, of Waianae, who protested the bombing of Kahoolawe in 1978, said, “They are forcing these rules to interpret our religion, our spiritual believes, our cultural practices by their rules.”
Sonoda-Pale emphasized that Mauna Kea is sacred. “It’s our temple. They’re not concerned about keeping that place protected … but simply using rules to justify use of force against kanaka maoli,” she said.
Other public hearings are scheduled for:
>> Hawaii island: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. today, Waiakea Elementary School, 180 W. Puainako St., Hilo.
>> Hawaii island: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Waikoloa Elementary and Middle School, 68-1730 Hooko St., Waikoloa.
>> Maui: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday at Pomaikai Elementary School, 4650 S. Kamehameha Ave., Kahului.
Anyone unable to attend a public hearing may submit written testimony regarding the proposed rules by mail to the UH System Government at UHHAR@hawaii.edu or through the university website at hawaii.edu/govrel/uhhar-testimony. All written submissions must be received at or prior to closing of the last scheduled public hearing. All oral and written testimony is public information.
Star-Advertiser reporter Nina Wu contributed to this story.