HONOLULU — House Speaker Scott Saiki on Monday announced the members of a working group that’s been asked in a House resolution to develop recommendations for how to manage Mauna Kea — the Big Island mountain that’s seen conflict over the construction and operation of some of the world’s most advanced telescopes.
Three of the 15 group members were leaders of 2019 protests that blocked construction crews from reaching the mountain’s summit to build the Thirty Meter Telescope. Four members are lawmakers, including the chairperson, Rep. Mark Nakashima, a Democrat whose Hilo district includes Mauna Kea.
“My community is depending on this working group to fulfill our mission. The residents of Hawaii Island have been engaged in this discussion for several years now, and the feeling is that they would like to see the issue resolved and hopefully we can move past this,” Nakashima said at a news conference.
Opponents of the telescopes say Mauna Kea’s peak is sacred and building observatories there desecrates the site. Supporters of the telescopes say the optimal observation conditions at the summit help astronomers conduct critical research that has contributed to humanity’s understanding of gravity, black holes and other scientific concepts.
The House resolution, passed in March, requested that recommendations be submitted to the Legislature by Dec. 31.
Nakashima said he’s long supported the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, which would be one of the world’s largest optical telescopes once it’s built. It’s being planned by a collection of California and Canadian universities along with the governments of China, India and Japan.
But he said the issue before the working group was not necessarily the telescope but rather the treatment of Native Hawaiians and cultural practices on the mountain.
Saiki selected seven members from among 58 Native Hawaiians nominated by Native Hawaiian organizations. The three protest leaders — Pualani Kanaka’ole Kanahele, Joshua Lanakila Manguil and Noe Noe Wong-Wilson — were among these seven.
The other four are Brialyn Onodera, a mechanical engineer at the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope on Maui; Jocelyn Leialoha Doane, an advocate for preserving Native Hawaiian claims to lands owned by the deposed Hawaiian monarchy; University of Hawaii Maui College Chancellor Lui Hokoana; and Shane Palacat-Nelsen, who chairs an organization advising the Office of Mauna Kea Management.
Four organizations named representatives to the committee: the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, the University of Hawaii Board of Regents and Maunakea Observatories.
Saiki said he wants the committee to develop a proposal to address how the mountain can be better managed. He also wants the working group to address whether the state should issue a new master lease to the University of Hawaii for land at the summit that hosts about a dozen existing observatories and would also host the Thirty Meter Telescope if it’s built there.
The university’s current lease for the summit expires in 2033.