Saturday, May 22, 1999

Public invited to
discuss Mauna Kea
master plan

Problems have been raised
by native Hawaiians and a
critical state auditor's report

By Pat Omandam


What's in the stars for the Mauna Kea Science Reserve is open for public discussion as part of a proposed 2000-2020 master plan for the international observatory site.

The University of Hawaii and Group 70 International, project consultant, are seeking feedback over the next 30 days on an environmental impact statement for the plan.

The current UH master plan for Mauna Kea, which has guided development at the premier ground-based astronomy site since 1983, must be updated to resolve problems brought up by the community, native Hawaiians and a critical state auditor's report, said Jeffrey H. Overton, chief environmental planner for the project.

The February 1998 auditor's report said natural resources at Mauna Kea were neglected by the university and the Department of Land and Natural Resources. It said there was weak implementation of the Mauna Kea management plan and that historic and cultural preservation were neglected. Guidelines for public access to the observatory were also lacking.

The Board of Land and Natural Resources in 1968 granted the university a 65-year lease for 11,288 acres of state land at Mauna Kea, predominantly at the 13,200-foot summit and at support facilities at Hale Pohaku at 9,800 feet. There are 13 telescopes and one antenna system on the summit.

Overton yesterday said the Mauna Kea Advisory Committee, set up by UH President Kenneth P. Mortimer, has been working on the problems raised in the auditor's report. It has been almost 30 years since the mountain facilities and sites have been studied, he said.

Overton said UH is proposing a 20-year integrated management plan which includes a physical plan as well as a management plan that preserves significant natural and cultural resources while it sets the scope of future development for astronomy education and research.

"It's a different approach in that there's a much deeper awareness of the natural and cultural resources and their significance at Mauna Kea," Overton said.

But others complain the plan -- outlined in a May 12 draft environmental impact statement preparation notice -- is unacceptable, in part because the state does not have the money to fund the proposal.

"They haven't dealt with the critical issues," said Nelson Ho, conservation committee chairman of the Sierra Club. "They deferred or sugar-coated it."

Ho yesterday said UH has put forth false promises for the mountain because it knows that it and the Department of Land and Natural Resources don't have the funds to carry out the plans.

The Sierra Club, along with several Hawaiian groups, also criticized the environmental impact statement planning process, saying the closed-door advisory committee meetings have left the public out of talks on Mauna Kea's future.

The plan also doesn't require UH to consult with Hawaiian organizations. Ka Lahui Hawaii, in an October 1998 report on Mauna Kea, said the sacred mountain is home to the goddess Poliahu and is the site of several religious and cultural resources, both man-made and spiritual.

Although he expects the process to continue, Ho and others want the UH Board of Regents to know that what is being drawn up by UH administrators and its consultants is bad policy. The regents have the final approval on the environmental report, which is expected to be done sometime this fall.

The 30-day public-comment period for the environmental impact statement preparation notice for the Mauna Kea Master Plan is from May 23 to June 22.

For more information, contact Overton at Group 70 International Inc., 523-5866, or UH Assistant Vice President Allan Ah San, 956-7935. Ah San's office is responsible for the project.

Ho can be reached at (808) 933-2650.

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