Saturday, January 23, 2016


Hawaii Tribune-Herald - January 23, 2016

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is requesting the state to charge “sufficient” rent to observatories on Mauna Kea.

Bills introduced on behalf of OHA in the state House and Senate would require University of Hawai`i, which holds a master lease for the Mauna Kea Science Reserve, to account for environmental damage, impact to Native Hawaiians and administration of its management plan, among other factors, when assessing lease payments.

The bills, SB 2127 and HB 1658, say UH has “failed to charge sufficient sublease rent consistent with the cultural, environmental, and economic value” of the lands.

Currently, observatories on the mountain pay a nominal $1 a year, though non-monetary contributions, such as observing time for UH, are part of the deal.

The exception is the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope, which is paying $300,000 a year for its sublease. That amount will increase incrementally to $1.08 million within the next decade, assuming the large telescope, which has faced opposition from Native Hawaiians who consider the mountain sacred, is built.

The telescopes also cover the cost of the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station and maintenance of the summit access road.

UH officials have said any new subleases also will cover significant portions of the cost of managing the mountain, though OHA’s bills would appear to make such commitments legally binding, in addition to other requirements it hopes to see put in place.

The agency says the bills also seek to make the sublease process more transparent.

As part of its legislative package for the 2016 session that started Wednesday, OHA also is requesting that the state remove its $15.1 million cap on ceded land payments.

Because of the limit, OHA says its share of revenue from use of the former crown lands has been below 20 percent for the past three years.

“As a result, OHA has returned $8 million to the state, which could be helping Hawaiians right now,” the agency says on its website.

The bills, SB 2124 and HB1655, would allow it to reclaim those funds.

Efforts to reach OHA and university officials for comment on the legislation were unsuccessful.