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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 26, 2010

Mauna Kea summit plans approved


By Nancy Cook Lauer
West Hawaii Today

HILO The Board of Land and Natural Resources on Thursday unanimously approved detailed plans for managing Mauna Kea's summit. The board also delegated implementation to an office within the University of Hawaii-Hilo.

The actions came after a four-hour meeting where proponents greatly outnumbered opponents.

Interest in both the economic boon and possible environmental impacts on Mauna Kea has increased with the selection last year of the mountain for the $1 billion Thirty Meter Telescope project.

The 20 proponents included representatives of business and labor groups as well as scientists and academics. They pointed out that the telescopes atop the mountain create jobs and provide a boost to the economy and scientific research.

"I don't want our island to be a concrete jungle, but I do want it to thrive," said Martin Nishi, a member of the Hawaii Carpenters Union.

Seven representatives of Native Hawaiian and environmental groups formed the opposition.

The Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter, Royal Order of Kamehameha I, KAHEA The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance and Kukauakahi Ching have appealed a previous Land Board decision to the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals. They said they would fight this latest action as well.

The opponents say the plan should remain in the hands of the Land Board, not the university, which is, in essence, the developer of the 11,288 acres leased from the state.

"This is a conflict of interest in sky-high letters," said Cory Harden. "Mauna Kea needs more protection, not more concrete."

The approved subplans are the Natural Resources Management Plan, Cultural Resource Management Plan, Public Access Plan, Decommissioning Plan and Project Development and Management Framework.

Land Board members quizzed agency and university staff on whether they sought input from opponents in addition to other environmental and cultural stakeholders. Laura Thielen, chairwoman of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, urged the group to create "safe zones" where those hesitant to speak in public could voice their concerns to be relayed to the board.

"There remain issues that need to be resolved," Thielen said.

Barry Taniguchi, president and CEO of KTA grocery stores and chairman of the Mauna Kea Management Board, assured Thielen that all points of view are considered.

"This plan is a living plan," Taniguchi said. "If it's good and reasonable, we will look into it."

Taniguchi added that "it's very frustrating, for me anyway," that opponents bring up "40-year-old problems" without offering solutions.

But the positive steps outlined in the new subplans may take years to implement. With tight budgets brought on by a down economy, UH President MRC Greenwood resisted attempts by board member David Goode to put specific deadlines of a year or 18 months for draft rules to implement the plan.

"We don't want to put the Office of Mauna Kea Management on the hook for something they may not get done in the timeframe. ... It needs to be flexible enough to allow us to demonstrate progress," Greenwood said. "We don't have any intention of doing nothing."

That irked Sierra Club representative Nelson Ho. With no money and a change of management, who will be safeguarding the environment, he asked after the meeting.

"There's no funding," Ho said. "This is how promises are broken on Mauna Kea."