Editorial: Mauna Kea rules small but key step
New administrative rules on the management of commercial activity at Mauna Kea, adopted by the University of Hawaii Board of Regents and signed by Gov. David Ige, take effect today.
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New administrative rules on the management of commercial activity at Mauna Kea, adopted by the University of Hawaii Board of Regents and signed by Gov. David Ige, take effect today. If properly executed, these rules provide a sound basis for ensuring that activities in the sensitive summit environment do not damage the resources that UH is charged to protect.
The rules, long in development, were the latest effort to improve oversight of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve, mandated by a critical state audit released in 1998. Rulemaking was begun as part of the planning that the audit prompted, with the rules first emerging in draft form 10 years ago, said Greg Chun, executive director of stewardship on the mountain.
The biggest cause of the delay, of course, were the protracted legal battles over the Thirty Meter Telescope, although Chun emphasized that they do not relate to the controversial TMT permit.
The original rules would have required groups of 10 or more to first register for summit access. Native Hawaiian groups, mobilized through the TMT demonstrations, criticized these rules as curbing native practices on the mountain. Chun acknowledged that this was one factor in the regents’ decision to remove such a requirement.
But Chun added that some regents who have experience with rulemaking governing natural resources also advised against strict controls on access as being ineffective and unnecessary. What matters is that these rules do curb potentially damaging activities — for instance, skiing or other sports, or bringing in materials that cause a fire.
So now these groups are asked only to check with the visitor center for information on hazards or environmental conditions at their particular destination on the mountain.
And that goes for individuals and groups other than Native Hawaiians, as well, he said: The greater worry is not about local residents, but about tourists unwittingly — or carelessly — doing harm to the resources.
Although the rules are a separate oversight issue, they are being implemented within the context of the ongoing TMT conflict. The governor, conscious of the public interest in the future of TMT, clearly felt compelled to address the questions on the standoff during his State of the State speech Tuesday before a joint session of the Legislature.
No answers were forthcoming. All Ige managed to do in his remarks was to assert his resolve to find a way forward that avoids dividing the community further. Everyone longs for that, of course, but most people hope that their chief executive, immobilized by this issue for half a year, has an inkling of what comes next. Distressingly, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
In the meantime, UH was right to finally put the rules on the books to guide stewardship over the coming years. The university is now a few months into a three-year capacity study exploring the important, finer details of Mauna Kea management.
The rules already lay out the permitting process, but the study should guide crucial policy decisions by the Office of Maunakea Management, such as: How many tour-operator permits should be issued, and how many tour vans should be admitted? What fee structure should be in place for visitors?
There are more critical issues to settle, including a proposal by Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim to put management under a broader agency more representative of Native Hawaiians and other stakeholders. Discussion of that should be imminent.
Still, even with all the uncertainty surrounding Mauna Kea, these final rules offer clarity on some
critical issues. And any light shed on this controversial
subject should be welcomed by everyone.