Feedback sought on new Maunakea Master Plan

The University of Hawaii is encouraging public input about a new version of its Maunakea Master Plan that would replace the current 20-year-old version.

The new plan, which is being unveiled today, outlines UH’s intended uses for the mountain over the next two decades, said Greg Chun, executive director for the Center for Maunakea Stewardship.

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The current plan, which was adopted in 2000, always had a 20-year shelf-life, Chun said, and was always intended to be replaced around this time. The updated plan has been in the works since November 2020 and is now open for public comment before eventually going before the Board of Regents for final approval sometime in the first half of 2022.

Chun said the plan strives to reduce UH’s physical footprint on the Maunakea summit, looks at ways to more effectively use the current facilities on the mountain, and attempts to ensure that activities on the mauna do not disrupt the natural and cultural resources of the area.

The new plan also cements UH’s commitment to maintain no more than nine operating astronomy facilities on Maunakea, broadens educational opportunities at the mid-level facility at Halepohaku, and incorporates various management changes adopted over the past two decades, according to UH.

In particular, the new plan adopts the same precise land use definitions used by the Department of Land and Natural Resources, and implements UH’s 2009 Comprehensive Management Plan, the 2020 establishment of the Center for Maunakea Stewardship and more.

The plan is ambivalent about the possible construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope: While it makes room for TMT at the summit, identifying it as the planned occupant of a site there, it also acknowledges on multiple occasions that there is uncertainty over whether the observatory will be built at all.

“The future of TMT doesn’t live in our hands,” Chun said. “So, we have to cover all outcomes.”

A letter by UH President David Lassner that prefaces the plan acknowledges the division caused by UH’s management of the mountain, but reiterates the university’s intention to maintain a world-class astronomy program there.

“In preparing this Master Plan, we have been enlightened by the insights of Native Hawaiian cultural experts, humbled by the criticisms from disappointed and angry community members as well as past audits, and blessed with the knowledge from painful lessons learned from prior missteps,” Lassner wrote. “We have been informed through community engagement during our decade-long rulemaking process and initiatives such as Envision Maunakea.

“Consequently, in preparing this Master Plan, we have paid special attention not only to the astronomy programs on which the University of Hawaii focused its attention for the first three decades of our stewardship, but also to the place of honor and renown that Maunakea has in the history, culture, and hearts of the Hawaiian people.”

Chun said the new Master Plan will dovetail with the eventual application for the extension of UH’s master lease of the Maunakea Science Reserve. To extend the lease, which expires in 2033, an environmental impact statement will be required, and an outline of UH’s intentions for the land is vital for getting that study completed, he said.

Members of the public can review the proposed new Master Plan and submit comments within the next 45 days at maunakea.konveio.com.

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Chun said an online public meeting is planned, but no date has been set yet.

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

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