The public has a second chance to chime in on rules governing public and commercial activity on Mauna Kea on the Big Island. Statewide public hearings on the University of Hawaiʻi’s proposed management rules kick off tonight on Oʻahu.
The latest draft of rules lay out exactly what would and would not be allowed on UH-managed lands on Mauna Kea. Something astronomer Doug Simons says is long overdue. Simons is the director of the Canada-France-Hawaiʻi Telescope and has worked on the mountain for decades.
"I think it's high time we had the ability to enforce rules on Mauna Kea,” says Simons, “The rangers who have been up there doing a fantastic job, all they can do is really just watch.”
Simons says one of the most important aspects of the rules is public safety. One draft rule for example requires four-wheel drive vehicles above the Halepōhaku rest station, about eight miles from the summit.
"Having watched for 30 years now or so the amount of car traffic that is going up and down the mountain. Now, you might see as many as 50 to 100 cars parked on the upper ridgeline to watch the sunset. We never had that,” says Simons.
An initial round of public hearings on the rules was held last year. Here’s Jesse Souki, associate general counsel for UH, who is working on the draft rules.
"Folks are concerned on how it might impact cultural practices on the mountain for example,” says Souki, “There were a couple of comments about not being able to use flashlights or a cell phone.”
Under the revised rules, visitors can use those items. Other proposals prohibit camping and the use of drones. UH removed initial proposals that would have affected Native Hawaiian traditional and customary rights.
Kealoha Pisciotta, a long-time advocate for better management of Mauna Kea questions UHʻs intentions.
"Because you know after going through these kinds of things for 20 some odd years, what we think is never acknowledged,” says Pisciotta, “If that were the case, they would take action for protecting the sacredness of the mountain.”
Souki says UH hopes to hear from more people in this second round of hearings. After the public comments are gathered, the rules will go to the UH Board of Regents. If approved, they will be sent to the Governor for final approval.
Tonight’s hearing begins at 5:30 p.m. at Mānoa Elementary School. The deadline for comments is Friday. Click here for a schedule of public hearings.