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Saturday, December 16, 2000

Mauna Kea tour
firms fight plan to
add more tours

By Rod Thompson
Big Island correspondent

HILO -- The number of companies conducting star-gazing tours at the summit of Mauna Kea would go from nine to 15 if new permits were granted by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.

Existing permit holders warned yesterday that more permits would put "micro" tour operators out of business and flood the summit with tourists.

"There are too many people in a very limited amount of space," said tour guide Matt Carter.

The Land Board voted to turn the permit applications over to the University of Hawaii-Hilo's new Office of Mauna Kea Management, which is to oversee non- astronomy uses of the mountain.

As many as 200 people per night now go to the summit, Carter said. Six more companies would add at least another 100 people, he said.

Doug Arnott, who described himself as a "micro-operator," said one of the new applicants is the large-scale Robert's Hawaii Tours. Such a company, with far greater marketing ability than his, could force him out of business after he has made a substantial investment, Arnott said.

Ed Stevens, representing Ahahui Ku Mauna, which helped prepare the new Mauna Kea master plan, objected to a proposal to drive tourists to the top of Puu Poliahu, one of several summit hills. The hill is sacred to the snow goddess Poliahu, Stevens said.

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