Maunakea master plan update features more information than interaction

  • SIMONS

  • Greg Chun

  • FILE - This Aug. 31, 2015, file photo shows telescopes on the summit of Mauna. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones, File)

A tightly moderated forum about the University of Hawaii’s updated Maunakea Master Plan was informative Wednesday, but left participants little opportunity to interact.

An updated version of the master plan was unveiled for public comment in September, and summarizes how UH intends to use the Maunakea summit lands leased from the state over the next two decades. The new draft takes into account new management structures that were not in place when the current master plan was approved in 2000.

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At a “virtual public forum” Wednesday, a trio of panelists — Greg Chun, UH-Hilo Center for Maunakea Stewardship executive director; Jim Hayes, president of Planning Solutions Inc., the firm that developed the new plan; and Doug Simons, director of UH’s Institute for Astronomy — answered a curated list of questions about the new plan submitted via email in advance of the meeting.

Chun opened the forum by reiterating the university’s intention to take into account local and Native Hawaiian voices in shaping the new draft — titled “E O I Ka Leo (Listen to the Voice)” — and acknowledged that UH has been accused of mismanagement of the summit lands.

“This plan needed to be presented in such a way that reflects the humility that we have and an understanding that our access there is a privilege,” Chun said.

Chun said the current plan always had a shelf life of 20 years, and was always intended to be replaced. But, he noted, an updated plan is necessary for the university to renew its master lease of the land when the current one expires in 2033.

But although Wednesday’s discussion was called a “public forum,” public input was tightly controlled. Moderator Marisa Yamane selected questions and presented them mostly anonymously, while comments on YouTube, where the event was livestreamed, were disabled.

One question — one of several that Yamane attributed to Native Hawaiian activist group KAHEA — directly addressed the issue, asking why UH chose a format that doesn’t allow participants to “hear from each other.” Chun said the “age of COVID” has made virtual forums necessary, and that UH is using similar formats for other meetings.

“It’s also a way for us to make sure we stay on the topic of the new Master Plan,” Chun said.

Chun added that UH did not intend to avoid answering certain critical questions, and some questions were critical.

One expressed frustration that the removal of astronomy facilities from the summit has taken so long — Hayes responded by explaining that the decommissioning process requires several extensive assessments for each observatory, most of which take months to complete and even longer to be approved.

And some questions addressed the Thirty Meter Telescope, a planned construction on Maunakea has been a point of contention among Native Hawaiian communities for years.

Chun and Simons said that the new master plan does not significantly affect TMT’s construction, as it was designed to adapt to scenarios where the TMT project does or does not move forward. However, Chun added that should TMT not be funded, the TMT site remains open to possible future development.

Simons said all summit observatories, including TMT, will be required to shift to zero-waste policies under the new plan

Yamane recited a litany of critical comments submitted on the master plan — “Maunakea is not your land to manage,” read a typical one — to which Chun responded by saying “everybody is right.”

“Our responsibility is to find that common ground as best as we can,” Chun said. “I understand the comments and where they’re coming from. Our responsibility has to be to incorporate those but also the input of the broader community as well.”

But much of the forum was spent answering specific questions about what the plan does or does not do: for example, Simons said, the plan does not require observatory domes to blend in better with the landscape because the bright colors of the domes keeps the facilities’ interiors cool, while Chun clarified that the plan does not restrict or impact Native Hawaiian access rights to the summit.

The panelists also discussed possible future plans that could be implemented under the new plan. Chun said he is still considering a possible shuttle service to the summit, but he said any such program would require extensive traffic and environmental considerations.

Chun concluded the forum by urging the community to seek common ground about Maunakea.

“We as a community have gotten to the point where we’re allowing our differences to define us,” Chun said. “And as long as that is the case, it’s going to be very difficult for us to get past any conflict.

“There are some larger issues that the Native Hawaiian community deservedly needs to have addressed by the state and by the federal government, that’s for sure,” Chun continued. “But on a very practical, everyday level, if what we see in each other is how we differ on Maunakea or TMT or whatever, then in my opinion, that’s a sad day.”

Public comments on the master plan will be accepted until Oct. 26. Chun said there will be future opportunities for public comment on the plan as it progresses.

The Maunakea Management Board briefly discussed the Master Plan on Tuesday, but deferred the discussion until its November meeting, which will also allow for public testimony.

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People can read the plan and submit comments on it at maunakea.konveio.com.

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

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