Editorial: Mauna Kea plan offers a solution
The protest’s leadership — intent on sending TMT elsewhere — would be wise to let go of its no-compromise stance.
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Fifty-one years ago, then-Gov. John A. Burns established the Maunakea Science Reserve and, through a lease with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the University of Hawaii was granted authority to operate a 525-acre astronomy precinct on a 11,288-acre site near the remote summit.
With 14 years remaining on the lease, criticism of stewardship, which had been simmering in recent years, is now nearing a boil among some supporters of the roadblock on Mauna Kea Access Road, now entering its fourth month.
In response, a “permitted interaction group” established by the UH Board of Regents is pinpointing one dozen action items — starting with a timeframe for decommissioning five of 13 telescopes in the science reserve. The group’s proposal delivers a win-win path forward in regards to reserve management and Thirty Meter Telescope construction.
UH leadership has acknowledged past missteps in stewardship, but can also show evidence of adhering to a correction course now almost two decades in the works. Beginning with the Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan, adopted in 2000, the regents have clarified roles, duties and responsibilities.
While four supporting management plans have followed, criticism — whether fairly or unfairly directed at stewardship of cultural and natural resources — persists. Therefore, the interaction group’s call for a fresh “reorganization and restructuring plan,” ready for regents’ review by April, is a sensible step toward future-focused mountain care.
As part of that plan, an in-depth analysis would probe whether science reserve management would be better served if transferred to a governmental authority or other third party entity, or through an alternate management, such as a conservation agreement. Such a study signals an open-minded willingness to weigh all reasonable options.
Among the regents included in the interaction group is Chairman Benjamin Kudo, who has lauded the commitment of TMT protesters to aloha aina and that of people in “academic, scientific and government spheres” to securing TMT’s approval and sensitive management of Mauna Kea’s resources.
For many Native Hawaiians, Mauna Kea is an important place to connect with natural and spiritual worlds. Amid the standoff, it also symbolizes broader matters of self-determination, and has spurred further recognition of a history — dating back to the Hawaiian kingdom’s overthrow — of wrongs done to the host culture.
Given that all involved in the TMT impasse have a deep sense of reverence for the site, compromise is a worthy outcome. Hawaii would best be served by an agreement that includes moving forward with the $1.4 billion TMT project, which will put in operation the world’s most advanced and largest optical telescope, while also giving back to Native Hawaiians.
Giving back should start with making good on promised telescope decommissioning. No foot-dragging. The interaction group is calling for a schedule to be presented to the regents by its February meeting, followed by “complete removal of all man-made structures” at two observatory sites by late April 2021.
Among other proposed give-backs: establishing a new educational telescope for UH-Hilo on already developed land at the mid-level Hale Pohaku site; and tasking the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center with developing Mauna Kea educational programs about Native Hawaiian culture, history, environment and biology designed for use by tour guides, employees, contractors, recreational users, scientists and observatory workers and visitors.
The protest’s leadership — intent on sending TMT elsewhere — would be wise to let go of its no-compromise stance. The gains tied to compassionate and clear-sighted compromise — for both Native Hawaiians and next-generation science — far outweigh any other outcome.