Saiki receives dozens of applications for Maunakea working group

More than 50 candidates have been nominated to fill seven positions on a working group to discuss new management structures for Maunakea.

In early March, the state House of Representations passed a resolution forming a working group that will investigate and recommend potential new ways to manage Maunakea summit lands.

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The Mauna Kea Science Reserve currently is managed by the University of Hawaii under a Comprehensive Management Plan. UH’s ability to carry out that plan was the subject of some criticism late last year, when an independent evaluation determined that the university had not adequately communicated with Native Hawaiians and cultural practitioners.

As a response to that evaluation, the working group will consist of seven Native Hawaiian members and eight other members to discuss possible changes to the management of the mountain.

House speaker Scott Saiki said Friday that he has received 54 applications for those seven Native Hawaiian positions, despite misgivings about the group’s purpose by some Native Hawaiian organizations.

“This isn’t about whether (the Thirty Meter Telescope) should be built,” Saiki said. “This is about how the land should be managed. … The majority of the public wants to see a discussion like this.”

But Kealoha Pisciotta, president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, an organization dedicated to protecting Maunakea, said she believes the working group to be disingenuous and a waste of time for Native Hawaiians.

“Management (of Maunakea) is only part of our problem,” Pisciotta said. “We’ve been dealing with bad management for years. … It’s just illegal to allow a lessee to govern state land, to govern crown land, or to govern conservation land.

“It feels like Saiki’s trying to do an end run around the law,” Pisciotta continued.

Pisciotta said she sees no strategic advantage for anyone who opposes development on Maunakea to join the working group, because the purpose of the group has been skewed to look favorably on development from the beginning.

“Native Hawaiians have been treated repeatedly with contempt this session,” Pisciotta said, going on to explain that several anti-TMT bills introduced in the Legislature this year failed to make any headway.

“Saiki killed all our bills,” Pisciotta said. “He didn’t even schedule any of them for a hearing.”

Aside from the seven Native Hawaiian members of the working group, other members will include a chairperson and three House members, all of whom will be appointed by Saiki, and four representatives of other agencies, some of which have a stated interest in continuing astronomy on the mountain, Pisciotta said.

The four members already named include Sterling Wong, chief advocate for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs; Robert Masuda, first deputy at the Board of Land and Natural Resources; UH-Hilo chancellor Bonnie Irwin; and Rich Matsuda, interim chief operating officer at the W. M. Keck Observatory, representing the Maunakea Observatories.

Saiki said the remaining members, including the seven Native Hawaiian members, should be named this week.

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Sometime this month, the group’s chair will determine a meeting schedule, with publicly accessible meetings to be held throughout the year until it submits its findings to the Legislature by Dec. 31.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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