HONOLULU — The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has filed a lawsuit against the State of Hawaii and the University of Hawaii, claiming longstanding mismanagement of the state’s tallest peak.
The lawsuit filed on Tuesday asks the court to order the state to fulfill its trust obligations relating to Mauna Kea and terminate the university’s general lease for the mountain for breach of the lease’s terms.
Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano that rises 13,802 feet (4,207 meters) above sea level.
The lawsuit accuses the parties of not protecting the mountain’s natural resources.
The university declined comment about specifics in the lawsuit, but said in general that accusations of mismanagement are untrue.
“To say that there’s been gross mismanagement is not accurate at all and quite frankly not fair,” university spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said. “More work needs to be done, but to disregard everything that’s happened on the mountain on one point or on an audit that dates back 20 years is inaccurate and unfair.”
The state attorney general is reviewing the lawsuit, which cites four state audits as evidence that the university failed to “allocate sufficient resources to protect Mauna Kea’s natural resources because it focused primarily on astronomy development.”
Earlier this year, OHA’s Board of Trustees pledged to take an “aggressive” position aimed at holding the University of Hawaii accountable for what it called “long mismanagement” of Mauna Kea.
But the university argues that the suit is coming at a time when the institution is taking pains to listen to and address community concerns.
“I think it’s really a shame because so many people have worked so hard to create a better environment on the mountain where we are caring for the natural resources, the cultural resources,” Meisenzahl said.
He added: “We are doing this because we care for the mountain whether from members of our community who care about Hawaiian causes. We have to take care of this mountain and we’ve been doing it because it’s the right thing to do and we are doing it because we’ve been tasked to do it.”