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University of Hawaiʻi shares concerns about a measure seeking to change Maunakea stewardship

Maunakea
Caleb Jones/AP
/
AP
FILE - The sun sets behind telescopes on July 14, 2019, at the summit of the Maunakea. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones, File)

The University of Hawaiʻi is preparing to defend its stewardship position on Maunakea as some lawmakers seek to set up a new governing body comprised mostly of Native Hawaiians.

House Bill 2024 crossed over to the Senate where it will be heard Tuesday by the Higher Education Committee.

If the measure becomes law, authority over Maunakea would be transferred from the university to a new 10-person panel of Native Hawaiians, Hawaiʻi Island residents and cultural practitioners.

In the House, lawmakers amended the measure to add a seat on the proposed board for UH, but fell short of adding a seat for the astronomy community.

The Center for Maunakea Stewardship at UH Hilo currently oversees the management of the mauna on behalf of the university.

"The implications of a decision to change management at this time and have this new entity charged with a mission of eliminating astronomy actually has implications for the broader economic diversification," said the center's Executive Director Greg Chun. "A big part of our focus is on trying to make sure the Legislature has the appropriate information and understanding of really what's involved and what's at stake."

Doug Simon, director of the UH Institute for Astronomy, shared his concerns about the future of astronomy in Hawaiʻi.

"It's really important to understand that the implementation of this bill is putting the existing observatories at Maunakea at great risk," Simon said.

Maunakea has been the focus of demonstrations in recent years to block the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Native Hawaiians who led the protests believe the mountain's summit is sacred and the observatory would desecrate the land.

Chun submitted testimony opposing the measure, and acknowledged the university has faced criticism over its stewardship. But he said significant improvements have been made in the last two decades.

The university’s current management lease is set to expire in 2033.

"It’s very clear that Hawaiʻi astronomy is very broadly supported in the state and we're starting to bump up against common sense issues that I'd like to think will yield themselves to common sense solutions," Simon said.

This interview aired on The Conversation on March 21, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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