Fifty Years of Mismanaging Mauna Kea by UH & DLNR

`Ano`ai kakou…  An excellent video was recently released that explains the state’s failure to fulfill its trust obligations relating to Mauna Kea.  The six-minute video, “Fifty Years of Mismanaging Mauna Kea,” was uploaded to VIMEO (Link: on December 12, 2017 by Kanaeokana, a network of ʻōlelo Hawai’i, Hawaiian culture, and ʻāina-based schools.  Here are some quick highlights:

1964 – Mauna Kea is identified by UH as an exceptional site for astronomical observation.

1968 – UH signs a 65-year general lease from BLNR for 13,321 acres of ceded lands at the summit.  BLNR can terminate the lease if the lease terms are not met, including care for the mauna.  A permit for “an observatory” was granted but numerous telescopes are built.  BLNR later issues “after the fact” permits.

1974 – Governor George Ariyoshi, concerned that the activities on the mountain pose a threat to its “priceless qualities,” directs DLNR to make a Master Plan for the mauna.  DLNR and UH draft 10 different plans, but the speed of development on Mauna Kea makes some of them obsolete before they are completed.

1975 – The Audubon Society resists the installation of the 15-meter sub-millimeter antenna.

1995 – UH cleans up trash accumulating on the summit only after the Sierra Club files a complaint.

1998 – The State Auditor releases a scathing report documenting 30 years of mismanagement of Mauna Kea by both the BLNR and UH and reveals that, despite spending $50 million per year on telescope operations, no observatory paid more than $1 a year rent.

1999 – Despite the audit, they build two more telescopes.

2004 – Subpoenaed documents reveal that sewage, ethylene glycol, diesel fuel, and toxic mercury were spilled on the mauna.

2005 – A follow-up audit finds that UH’s management “still falls short.”  A NASA environmental study concludes that 35 years of astronomy activity has caused “significant, substantial and adverse” harm.

2007 – Third Circuit Court revokes NASA’s permit for an observatory project because of the state’s lack of a comprehensive management plan for the mauna.

2010 – UH’s new Comprehensive Management Plan includes a “Decommissioning Plan” for removing observatories and restoring the site.  To date, only one of the existing 13 observatories has started the process.  A UH environmental study concludes that astronomy activities have caused “substantial and adverse” impacts to the mauna’s natural and cultural resources.

2011 – The Subaru Observatory spills 100 liters of orange coolant.

2013 – BLNR hears UH’s request for a new 65-year general lease, to expire in 2078.  UH’s undergraduate governing body, representing 14,000 students, passes a resolution opposing a new lease.

2014 – Another follow-up audit finds UH failed to adopt a single rule to manage public activities on the mountain.

2015 – Governor David Ige temporarily stops construction on Mauna Kea after 300 mauna protectors peacefully block roads to the proposed TMT site and 31 are arrested.  A petition with 53,000 signatures calling for a halt to the TMT and the arrests of protectors is delivered to Ige.  UH’s President admits that “[UH] has not met all of [its] obligations to the mountain or the expectations of the community.”

2017 – Another audit finds that none of the 8 recommendations in the 2014 audit had been completely implemented.  UH and DLNR have also failed and to adequately implement 32 of 54 management actions that concern Native Hawaiians.

If you think Mauna Kea deserves better care, help spread the word by sharing this video.

Check out the video at:

Give OHA its fair share of ceded land revenues

`Ano`ai kakou…  In 2006, Senate Bill 2948 established the amount of interim revenue to be transferred to the OHA from the public land trust, each fiscal year beginning with fiscal year 2005-2006, at $15,100,000.

While I was not opposed to the $15,100,000 that was negotiated, I did have serious concerns about how the amounts were calculated.  I also questioned whether OHA’s negotiation team considered all of the facts and figures that were available to come up with a fair and justifiable amount.  The last discussion that I am aware of was in December 2005, when our attorney told us that the state owed a past due amount between $17-$30 million.

Despite my inquires, I have never gotten a satisfactory answer on how the final $15.1 million figure was calculated nor why this amount is lower than the $17-$30 million range that was discussed.  I did receive bits-and-pieces of information from the negotiation team from time-to-time.  However, even very important information, such as the calculations and figures compiled by OHA’s accountant in the past, had changed over the years and I questioned whether they were even considered.  There also did not appear to be a clear formula by which the negotiators calculated the amounts owed or even the future payments to be paid to OHA.

At no time was I ever privy to the formula which the negotiation team used to calculate the settlement with the Governor’s office, nor was I given any real numbers that showed exactly how the team had arrived at the numbers that they were suggesting.  Much of the specific details of the negotiations were kept a closely guarded secret.

On February 1, 2006, the State House Committee on Hawaiian Affairs had a hearing on Senate Bill 2948.  During the questions and answers period, committee members asked the State Attorney General about where the revenue would come from.  The AG replied that they were looking at receipts from the airport shops, the University of Hawaii Bookstore, U.H. parking, etc.  State Representative Ezra Kanoho asked if those sources were included in the $15.1 million and the answer was “yes.”  This was confusing since those revenues have been in dispute with the state since the Heely case.  This begged the question – Was the state now settling a part of the Heely case with this settlement?

By the time I found out that the negotiating team and the Governor’s office had come up with a deal, it was too late for me to express my other concerns.  For example:

  1. By what method was the past due amounts determined to be $17-$30 Million?
  2. Was inflation factored into the equation?
  3. Did they consider the fact that the state has been re-negotiating leases every year and, consequently, the revenue stream is now much higher? The $15.1 million figure goes way back to 1995.
  4. What about the interest that is owed to OHA on the unpaid amounts?

I have always felt that our negotiating team was too secretive about how they came up with the final $15.1 million figure.  I also haven’t heard a convincing argument that justifies the amount.  It is critical that we revisit this issue and finally convince the state to give OHA and its beneficiaries a fair share of the ceded land revenue.  As the past OHA Chair I did ask Governor Ige to reconvene the taskforce of 2016 to resolve the unpaid debt to OHA but as of this date I’ve had no response.  Aloha Ke Akua.

Governor should consider transferring Mauna Kea Lands to OHA

`Ano`ai kakou…  As many readers know, Mauna Kea is a ceded land asset belonging to both Native Hawaiians and the general public.  OHA Trustees are also mandated by state law to advocate for all Native Hawaiian and to protect and preserve sacred sites.

On May 26, 2015, Governor David Ige announced that he had asked UH, which subleases the summit area from the state, to make ten changes to improve its stewardship of Mauna Kea.  One of the ten changes included UH voluntarily returning to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) full jurisdiction of more than 10,000 acres that are not specifically needed for astronomy.

I commended Governor Ige for his commitment to make Mauna Kea whole again.  Transferring such a large portion of Mauna Kea out if UH’s hands is a wonderful idea and provides Native Hawaiians with a positive first step in revising the way Mauna Kea is safe-guarded.

However, I have recently heard through unconfirmed reports that DLNR has been resistant to taking control over the Mauna Kea lands because they lack the resources to properly manage it.

If it is true that DLNR is unable to take responsibility over the lands, I would like to suggest that the state encourage UH to turn over the lands to OHA.  It would make perfect sense since all 11,300 acres of land within the Mauna Kea Science Reserve are public land trust lands classified under section 5(b) of the Admissions Act.  The revenues from public trust lands must be dedicated to specific purposes including the betterment of Native Hawaiians.

OHA’s administration has built up its capacity to manage both commercial and preservations lands by establishing an in-house land department and a land committee at the board level.

I believe that transferring responsibility over Mauna Kea lands to OHA would produce the best “win-win” situation for the State, the University of Hawaii and all of OHA’s Native Hawaiian beneficiaries.  What better solution could there be than to put Hawaiian lands in Hawaiian hands?


On April 1, 2015, the Board of Trustees rescinded its support of Mauna Kea as the site of the TMT.  As a result OHA has no position as to whether or not the TMT should be located on the mountain.

Nonetheless, on July 10, 2015, OHA opposed DLNR’s proposals to use emergency rulemaking procedures to ban outdoor gear and nighttime presence in an 18,000 acre corridor leading to the summit of Mauna Kea.  OHA testified that there were a number of technical, statutory, cultural, environmental, public safety, and constitutional concerns, as well as the potential for unintended natural, cultural, and public safety concerns.

Despite OHA’s strong opposition, the BLNR passed the following rules: (1) A rule change that will allow for the BLNR Chairperson to close public hunting areas for up to 30 days; and (2) A rule closing the Mauna Kea Observatory Access Road, including one mile on either side, from 10:00 p.m. – 4:00 a.m.  Aloha Ke Akua.