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Hawaiian Homes Beneficiaries Sue State Over Mauna Kea Access Road

Ku'uwehi Hiraishi/HPR
Controversy over ownership of Mauna Kea Access Road emerged last year during protests against the planned Thirty Meter Telescope.

A group of Native Hawaiians is suing the state for what they say is its failure to pay for decades of using Hawaiian home lands on Mauna Kea, including the access road to the mountain summit.

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi/HPR
Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation Attorney Alan Murakami, left, lays out the details of a lawsuit filed Thursday on behalf of three Hawaiian home lands beneficiaris, including Halealoha Ayau, right.

The Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. filed the lawsuit Thursday on behalf of three home lands beneficiaries, Pua Kanahele, Halealoha Ayau and Keli?i “Skippy” Ioane.

The lawsuit is seeking compensation to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) for the state’s use of the land under the access road. No dollar amount was cited.

Controversy over who owns the road emerged last year during protests against the planned Thirty Meter Telescope.

The state Department of Transporation claims it received jurisdiction over Mauna Kea Access Road after a 1995 settlement between the state and DHHL.

The deal known as Act 14 aimed to resolve all claims the department had to compensation from the state for streets and roadways improperly built on DHHL land dating back to statehood.

In return, the department would be compensated with a future land exchange. No such exchange has been made, which leads to questions over whether DOT owns the road.

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi/HPR
Hawaiian home lands beneficiary Keli'i "Skippy" Ioane is among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the state. Ioane was arrested along with 38 others during protests against the planned Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea in July 2019.

The state attorney general’s office said in an emailed response that all legal claims were resolved under Act 14 and that any remaining compensation issues are under discussion.

Halealoha Ayau says the compensation could help put the 28,000 native Hawaiians currently on waiting lists on homestead lands.

“Given the high number of applicants on the waiting list, the question always boils down to lack of resources. Well, this is one way ... that the department has that would raise funds to implement its directive," said Ayau.

The lawsuit also argues the Hawaiian Homes Commission violated trust duties by doing nothing to stop unpermitted and uncompensated use of Mauna Kea Access Road. The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare DHHL the rightful and sole owner of the land under the access road.

A court hearing on the lawsuit has not yet been scheduled.

Mauna Kea Access Road Lawsuit

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at
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