UH regents amend, approve draft rules for Maunakea

HILO — After eight hours of impassioned opposition from community members, the University of Hawaii Board of Regents ultimately voted Wednesday to amend and approve a draft of administrative rules governing Maunakea.

The rules, which codify UH’s policies regarding how it manages its leased lands on Maunakea and establish limits on visitors’ behavior, were the subject of substantial public ire for well over a year, with previous drafts incurring hours of negative public testimony at two rounds of public hearings.

Wednesday’s meeting was a fitting culmination of that saga as hundreds of testifiers filled the auditorium at the UH Hilo Performing Arts Center to decry the rules and UH’s management of Maunakea for eight hours.

Although the testifiers ostensibly had a three-minute time limit to present their statements, that limit was never enforced, allowing many to expand their testimony into extensive diatribes against the historical mistreatment of Hawaiians, discussion of the effects of cultural and generational trauma caused by the colonization of Hawaii, general opposition to the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea, or pointed criticism of the perceived failure of UH President David Lassner, who was in attendance at the meeting, to adequately ensure the the welfare of UH students.

Others opted for more theatrical presentations. Several led the audience in song, while another performed an original hip-hop track condemning the proposed rules, and still another made a semi-serious announcement that he would run for President of the United States in 2020 so he could “be [the regents’] boss.”

While much of the testimony veered away from the specific content of the rules, nearly all were united in their disapproval. In particular, many blasted a particular section of the rules requiring groups of 10 or more visitors to Maunakea to register 15 days in advance of entering UH-managed areas. That section, many argued, placed intolerable restrictions on Hawaiian cultural practices on Maunakea.

“Does your church require you to get a permit 15 days before you go there?” asked Kealoha Pisciotta, a leader among those who oppose the construction of TMT.

Dozens of those who testified have spent months camping on Maunakea Access Road as part of a protest against the construction of TMT on Maunakea, which the protesters — who call themselves “protectors” — consider sacred.

Many testifiers also criticized the university’s seeming lack of transparency in unveiling the rules. As required by law, the proposed rules were released to the public six days before the meeting. However, the rules were buried at the bottom of a nearly 1,700-page compilation of other documents, which many testifiers saw as intentional obfuscation of the rules from the public.

While the proposed rules were the primary topic of discussion, a resolution proposed by a permitted interaction group formed by the regents in August was no more popular.

The resolution makes several commitments regarding UH’s stewardship of Maunakea, including timelines for the decommissioning process of four summit telescopes and a proposed reorganization of the university’s governance operation of the mauna.

Members of the Hawaiian community similarly opposed the resolution, but were joined in their opposition by several members of the astronomy community, including the directors of the W. M. Keck Observatory and the Canada France Hawaii Telescope. The astronomers argued that the resolution was made without consulting the observatories about the decommissioning timeline.

Jessica Dempsey, deputy director of the East Asian Observatory, said the telescopes scheduled for decommissioning are still “extremely productive,” and that to announce a deadline for when they will be shut down devalues the work of their astronomers and staff.

Although astronomers and TMT opponents were briefly joined in opposition to the resolution, testifiers criticized the favorable treatment afforded to the astronomy community by UH.

“The astronomers are upset they weren’t consulted,” said testifier Lanny Sinkin. “I think the astronomers had gotten a taste of what it’s like being Hawaiian.”

After over eight hours of testimony — with only one five-minute break — the Board deliberated on its agenda items. Based on the criticism from the community, many regents were critical of the 15-day registration requirement for groups of visitors and questioned its inclusion in the rules.

UH Associate General Counsel Jesse Souki defended the requirement, saying it was actually less stringent than the rules governing state Department of Land and Natural Resources forest reserves on which the UH rules were based. Those DLNR rules require groups of 10 or more to apply for actual permits, not mere registrations.

Some regents attempted to soften the requirement by reducing the time requirement to one or two days, or by replacing registration with a basic sign-in sheet. However, several regents said they could not in good conscience support any rules that would impede cultural practitioners in any way.

“It’s clear from what we’ve heard today that there is a large part, an important part of this community that does not trust us,” said regent Alapaki Nahale-a. “Let’s stop throwing barriers in front of our cultural practitioners.”

Ultimately, the Board voted unanimously to approve a version of the rules stripped of any requirement for registration of any kind, and also with a proviso that the rules be reviewed after a year to ensure they function properly.

With the approval of the board, the rules now go to the Small Business Regulatory Review Board, which can pass them to the state Attorney General for review, and then to the Governor for approval. However, the Attorney General can decide that the changes to the rules are too substantial, which will require the Board to order a third round of public hearings on the changes.

The Board also approved the resolution after making some changes. Those revisions included an eight-month extension to the deadline for decommissioning the first two telescopes in 2021, the removal of the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope and the Very Long Baseline Array from the list of facilities to be decommissioned, and language that would include members of the Hawaiian community in discussions regarding the reorganization of the university’s governance of the mauna.

One regent, Randy Moore, abstained from voting on the resolution, as the revisions made to the resolution were not made public before the meeting. Otherwise, all regents present voted in support of the resolution.

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