Governor Ige Announces Stewardship Changes at Mauna Kea

May 26, 2015, 3:27 PM HST · Updated May 26, 3:28 PM
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Mauna Kea. Image courtesy Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Mauna Kea. Image courtesy Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

By Wendy Osher

Governor David Ige today said the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope project took the appropriate steps necessary to proceed, but he also announced the formation of a Mauna Kea Cultural Council to ensure cultural sensitivity going forward.

The governor also said he will increase its oversight of the activities currently taking place on the mountain and announced 10 actions he is asking the University of Hawaiʻi to take to ensure enhanced stewardship at the mountain top.

The announcement was made during a press conference at the State Capitol this afternoon.

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He said his review found that “The TMT project went through the appropriate steps and got the appropriate approvals.  I do not doubt that they did more than any previous telescope project to be a good neighbor.”

The governor noted that there is a court challenge to the project and he will abide by the decision of the courts on this matter.

“This issue is in litigation a this time and the courts will ultimately have their say on this case. In the meantime however, TMT has the right to proceed with construction, and they may proceed as far as I’m concerned – and we will support and enforce their right to do so,” said Governor Ige.

He continued saying, “We also acknowledge the right to protest this activity. We will protect the right to a peaceful protest and will act to ensure public safety and the right to use our roads for lawful purposes,” he said.

The governor said his review also found that, “In many ways, we have failed the mountain. Whether you see it from a cultural perspective or from a natural resource perspective, we have not done right by a very special place and we must act immediately to change that.”

Those in opposition to the project have expressed concern over continued development at the sacred site and desecration of the area. Supporters say they believe that science and culture can coexist on the mountain and maintain that permits were secured to build at the location after a seven-year public process.

The governor’s list of requested actions to UH include the following:

  1. Accept its responsibility to do a better job in the future.
  2. Formally and legally bind itself to the commitment that this is the last area on the mountain where a telescope project will be contemplated or sought.
  3. Decommission – beginning this year – as many telescopes as possible with at least 25 percent of all telescopes gone by the time TMT is ready for operation.
  4. Restart the EIS process for the university’s lease extension and conduct a full cultural impact assessment as part of that process.
  5. Move expeditiously the access rules that significantly limit and put conditions on non­cultural access to the mountain.
  6. Require training in the cultural aspects of the mountain and how to be respectful to the cultural areas for anyone going on the mountain.
  7. Substantially reduce the length of its request for a lease extension from the Board of Land and Natural Resources.
  8. Voluntarily return to full DLNR jurisdiction all lands (over 10,000 acres) not specifically needed for astronomy.
  9. Ensure full use of its scheduled telescope time.
  10. Make a good faith effort to revisit the issue of payments by the existing telescope now as well as requiring it in the new lease.

On April 11, the governor announced a timeout on construction at the TMT site, and a week later, announced a timeout-extension following ongoing demonstrations blocking access to the construction site, teach-ins, and walkout events across the state.

During today’s press conference, Governor Ige took time to thank the TMT team for “allowing him time to listen and learn from those with differing points of view” on the project.

“My role as governor is to represent all of the people of Hawaiʻi – our people – especially on critical and controversial matters.  The issues surrounding Mauna Kea are contentious, and on all sides, very strongly felt – and because of that, the search for answers is very challenging and difficult,” said Gov. Ige.

In moving forward, the governor said he believes core values need to include the following:

  • (1) The importance of respecting our host culture and the special places of Hawaiʻi;
  • (2) The critical role that science and technology play in the economic and educational life of our community.  Our young people need to reach for the starts literally and figuratively;
  • (3) Respect for the laws and the process of seeking and receiving approvals to do work here in Hawaiʻi.
  • (4) The need in all of our work as government and as a people to take the time to listen and to learn from each other, and especially from those who feel that they have not been heard.
  • (5) To act always with aloha.

The governor said the State of Hawaiʻi must change the way it exercises responsibility for Mauna Kea and proposed to change the management of the summit to bring cultural voices into the leadership structure.

In concluding his statements, Governor Ige said, “As in many areas of Hawaiʻi’s life, we need to take a much longer view of our resources, and to plan for them in 10 years, 40 years or even 100 years.  On Mauna Kea, there is so much that needs to be done and we look forward to working with all of those involved as we work to find the right balance of culture and science on this most significant cultural asset.”

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