DOT has ‘control and jurisdiction’ of Maunakea Access Road

  • Demonstrators stand at Maunakea Access Road at sunrise July 15. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — The Maunakea Access Road is under the control and jurisdiction of state Department of Transportation, the state Attorney General, and the departments of Hawaiian Homelands and Transportation said in a joint statement issued Friday afternoon.

The DOT “has control and jurisdiction” over all state highways pursuant to HRS 26-19 and Ch. 264, the statement said. Maunakea Access Road is designated to the department’s State Highway System as Route 210. It includes any portions of the road that cross over DHHL land.

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“State DOT has controlled and maintained Mauna Kea Access Road since it became part of our highways system in 2018,” said DOT Deputy Director Ed Sniffen. “Prior to that time, sections of the road situated on Hawaiian home lands were maintained by the County of Hawaii pursuant to a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between DHHL and the County of Hawaii.”

Proper jurisdiction over the access road fell under question earlier this month after Sen Kai Kahele, D-Hilo, raised the issue at a meeting of the Committee on Hawaiian Affairs, arguing that the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands may not have properly transferred jurisdiction over the road to the Department of Transportation.

Beneficiaries of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 do not own Maunakea Access Road, according to the statement by the AG, DOT and DHHL. Act 14, which became law in 1995, resolved all claims concerning the use of Hawaiian Home lands for public roads and highways built before and after statehood.

In response to concerns that some compensation remains outstanding, the statement said the DHHL and Department of Land and Natural Resources have been working together to evaluate the terms of compensation and to confirm that it has been made in full.

This process, however, does not alter the fact that all claims regarding use of roads and highways crossing DHHL lands have been resolved, the statement said.

“Act 14 was a historic piece of legislation,” said Hawaiian Homes Commission Chair William J. Aila Jr. “It resolved long-standing claims associated with the use of Hawaiian home lands. We remain committed to seeing the completion of the few remaining items under Act 14, including ensuring that compensation for the use of roads and highways crossing DHHL lands has been received in full.”

Cedric Duarte, information and community relations officer for DHHL, said Friday that there are still some conditions that have to be met to finalize the transfer of land — in accordance with Act 14, which was passed in 1995 and allows the state to acquire DHHL land through a formal exchange process — but the question of jurisdiction has been resolved to the satisfaction of both DHHL and DOT.

Duarte said Aila’s statement does not mean that the jurisdictional issue can not still be challenged. Kahele did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Attorney General Clare E. Connors said the state is reviewing the compensation issues related to the use of Hawaiian Home lands for public roads and highways, and will ensure they have been addressed.

“The public is reminded that Mauna Kea Access Road is a public road controlled by DOT and that the current blockade is unlawful,” Connors said in the prepared statement.

The statement concluded with “At this time, DOT has restricted access on Mauna Kea Access Road to preserve public health and safety, and to carry out its responsibilities under HRS Ch. 264.”

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The plan to start construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope at the summit of Maunakea has been for thwarted for more than a month by Native Hawaiian activists who say the construction will further desecrate a mountain some consider sacred and already has more than a dozen observatories. DOT restricted access to the road in July.

Hawaii Tribune-Herald reporter Michael Brestovansky contributed to this report.

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