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University regents adopt Hawaii mountain management plan

January 21, 2022 GMT

HONOLULU (AP) — The University of Hawaii’s board of regents on Thursday adopted a draft plan for management of land on Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s tallest mountain, where an embattled giant telescope project has sparked discord about land-use decisions.

Those who oppose construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope believe it will desecrate land sacred to Native Hawaiians. Some testified at a virtual regents meeting Thursday, urging rejection of the draft plan because it supports allowing astronomy to continue on the Big Island mountain.

Despite decades of Hawaiians calling for no further development on the summit, the university “continues to make the building of TMT and development a priority,” testified Healani Sonoda-Pale, one of the leaders in the fight against the giant telescope.

There are already about a dozen existing observatories on the mountain.

The university has a master lease from the state for land at the summit, which expires in 2033.

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“UH firmly believes that astronomy, education, cultural practices, science-based environmental management, research, and responsibly conducted public activities can coexist,” the draft plan said.

It said astronomy facilities would be decommissioned to ensure that there are no more than nine by Dec. 31, 2033 and does not exceed that number throughout the remainder of the time covered by the plan.

Vice-Chair Alapaki Nahale-a said he understands that the plan doesn’t work for those who don’t want any astronomy on Mauna Kea.

“We believe right now we’re the best entity to manage Mauna Kea,” he said. “We have to find a way for astronomy to be a part of Mauna Kea in an appropriate way.”

Regent Diane Paloma was the only one who voted against adoption of the plan. Three members were excused.

Hawaii lawmakers are also considering changes to how Mauna Kea is managed. Members of the House of Representatives are drafting legislation in response to recommendations made by a working group that met to discuss the issue last year.

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AP reporter Audrey McAvoy contributed to this report.