Groups sue state over Mauna Kea management plan

Updated at 12:03 p.m., Friday, October 2, 2009

Groups sue state over Mauna Kea management plan

By Nancy Cook Lauer
West Hawaii Today

HILO – A consortium of groups opposed to the state’s management plan for Mauna Kea said it filed suit in 3rd Circuit Court yesterday, fighting for its right to protest a plan it says doesn’t protect the environment or Native Hawaiian cultural resources.

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources earlier this year denied the groups – including Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, the Royal Order of Kamehameha I, the Sierra Club, KAHEA: The Hawaiian Environmental Alliance, and Clarence Kukauakahi Ching – a contested case hearing on the grounds they didn’t have legal standing to fight the plan.

“The board’s decision undermines the basic right everyone in Hawaii has to stand up for their environment, their culture and their religion,” Kealoha Pisciotta, president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, said in a statement. “Despite extensive evidence on the record of our cultural, spiritual, environmental and recreational connections to Mauna Kea, the Board is now claiming we suddenly have no right to ensure it is protected from bulldozers.”

The Land Board had approved the 299-page plan with amendments that made the University of Hawaii Board of Regents responsible for implementation, subject to land board oversight. It also put in a number of safeguards, including the creation of four sub-plans to address public access, natural resources, cultural resources and the decommissioning of telescopes.

Opponents of the plan are particularly concerned about a new Thirty Meter Telescope group that recently chose Mauna Kea over Chile. The development process for the TMT is now moving forward, with a meeting earlier this week of TMT designers and local design and construction companies.

“Mauna Kea belongs to the people,” said Alii Ai Moku Paul Neves, of the Royal Order of Kamehameha I. “Hawaii law has long recognized the unique interests of Native Hawaiians and the public in protecting our natural and cultural resources. The board cannot approve any management plan without hearing all of the facts first, and that means holding this contested case hearing.”

The management plan was required by a 2007 ruling of the 3rd Circuit Court in favor of these groups, who have been working to protect the summit for more than 15 years. In that 2007 decision, the court held that a comprehensive management plan is required before any land-altering activity can be allowed in the conservation district at the summit of Mauna Kea.

The cost of implementing the plan has been estimated at about $1.5 million a year, and former UH President David McClain said he was “committed to providing what’s necessary for the implementation of the plan.”

“The reason why I voted for it,” Department of Natural Resources Chairwoman Laura Thielen had said of the plan, “is it sets in place management steps. And the conditions the board added require the university to move forward with some specific issues that the public raised during the testimony.”

Thielen yesterday referred West Hawaii Today to Conservation and Coastal Lands Administrator Sam Lemmo, who did not respond to a phone message at his office.

Such a hearing, if granted, could delay implementation of the plan for months or years.

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