Mauna Kea Rules… Take 2

After last year’s debacle that occurred when trying to introduce administrative rules for public and commercial access to Mauna Kea, the University of Hawaii is back with a heavily revised version.

The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope surrounded by the sunset crowd
The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope surrounded by the sunset crowd

How bad were the original version of the rules? In many areas they seemed to be badly thought out, with language far too expansive. Even a cursory reading reveals that the rules were not reviewed by someone familiar with some of the technical language used. Many of the proposed rules would have created safety issues, or even devoid of common sense.

It does appear that they actually listened to the criticism that was received in written form and at the public hearings. Many of the complete gaffes have been removed or reasonably revised.

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Winter on The Mauna

The warnings sound pretty bad, high winds, high surf, snow for the summit. The county has closed all beach parks, the state has closed most of the parks in anticipation of the bad weather.

Keck 1 dome with a liberal coating of ice from freezing fog
Keck 1 dome with a liberal coating of ice from freezing fog

The summit of Mauna Kea is currently seeing sustained winds of over 80mph, with gusts well over 100mph. Yes, the summit is closed to the public and observing has been cancelled at Keck.

Meanwhile it is eerily still at the house, almost no breeze and quite pleasant. Waiting for the storm to arrive.

I will not be going up anytime soon. Taking a little time off to spend with some family that will be on island, hopefully landing right about now.

I was up a couple days ago… It was impressive then, 40mph winds and everything covered with inches of ice. I braved the biting wind to wander about and take a few photos. Very cold, and very beautiful.

SB918 on State Land Leases

Yesterday we discussed SB933 regarding leases, today we take a look at the last of the three bills involving the leasing of state land in Hawaii.

A mamane tree in the fog atop Mauna Kea
A mamane tree in the fog atop Mauna Kea

SB918 contains a large number of small edits to the Hawaii Statutes. All with one effect… Reducing the maximum length of a land lease to 35 rather than 55 years.

Most bills include extensive reasoning for the changes, why the changes are needed, and what the changes would accomplish. The text of SB918 gives no such supporting information. Why is this change needed?

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SB933 on State Land Leases

Three bills introduced in the 2019 Hawaii legislature session directly address state land leases. The first of these discussed here on DarkerView was SB905 which attempts to assess reasonable compensation for a lease. The remaining two bills, SB933 and SB918, concerned with leases seem to make sense as well, but also leave questions.

Sunset over the shoulder of Haulalai
Sunset over the shoulder of Haulalai

SB933 is another that on first read seems to make sense. This bill would require a rent review on all state land leases every decade. Conditions change, economics change, inflation happens, insuring the state is fairly compensated for the use of state land is in the best interest of the public.

While the language of the change is simple, the impact of that language is not clear. Indeed, it seems strange when considering what a rent review would consist of.

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SB905 on State Land Leases

Three bills introduced in the 2019 Hawaii legislature session directly address state land leases. The first of these we will discuss here on DarkerView is SB905 which attempts to assess reasonable compensation for such a lease.

Red and White
The red cinder of Mauna Kea contrasts with white clouds and white telescopes

When considering the issues of land leases in Hawaii there are a few important things to consider. The vast majority of land in the state is owned by either the state itself, or by a handful of large landowners. These entities do not typically sell land, rather much of the land is in long term lease to the current users.

A significant number of commercial developments, some military bases, and large resorts sit upon leased land. Malls, apartment complexes, and a surprising number of private homes are on leased land. This leads to a wide range of potential issues when the leases run out or are open to renegotiation. Sometimes it gets ugly, with families evicted from homes that have been in the family for generations.

As one would expect, the leasing of state land can quickly become a hot political issue. A great deal of land use law, and an even larger body of case law revolves around these leases.

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SB916 State Land Use Requirements

The most direct of Senator Kahele’s attacks on Mauna Kea astronomy is contained in SB916. Indeed this one bill is the most revealing in understanding the motivation behind the remainder of the Mauna Kea bills we have been discussing.

The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope surrounded by the sunset crowd
The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope surrounded by the sunset crowd

The provisions of SB916 are particularly troubling. While clearly motivated as an attack on astronomy facilities on the summit of Mauna Kea, provisions of the bill go far beyond the mauna, certainly impacting any use of state land on all islands.

In reading the bill one particular provision stands out, a prohibition of any impact on surrounding resources. This should be a glaring issue to anyone considering supporting this measure. This could in effect prohibit any use of public land…

The bill is simply a wish list for opponents of any development, language that can be used as grounds to sue and obstruct development over a wide range of real or perceived issues.

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SB936 Redistrubuting Mauna Kea Special Funds

Next up in our examination of the current legislature’s crop of Mauna Kea bills is SB936.

An ancient ahu atop Mauna Kea
An ancient ahu atop Mauna Kea

This bill removes two thirds of the revenue currently going to the
University of Hawaii managed Mauna Kea lands management special fund, redirecting the revenue towards two additional funds. One third would go to a new Mauna Kea special fund administered by the Department of Hawaiian Homelands. The other third would go to a DLNR administered Mauna Kea natural area reserve special fund.

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The 2019 State Legislature and The Mauna

The deadline for the introduction of new bills in the Hawaii legislature’s 2019 session has passed and we can see that at least six bills directly address Mauna Kea.

Mauna Kea seen at dawn from Mauna Loa
Mauna Kea seen at dawn from Mauna Loa

We have previously discussed HB1067, the development moratorium bill addressing Mauna Kea lands above 6,000ft. The remainder are less direct, but are no less aimed squarely at the controversies surrounding new astronomy facilities on Mauna Kea.

  • HB1067 Prohibits any development on conservation lands of the Mauna Kea summit at 6,000 feet above sea level and higher.
  • SB905 Requires the lessor of a master lease for public land to receive reasonable compensation.
  • SB916 Requires that the board of land and natural resources make certain determinations before approving public land dispositions. Restricts the board of land and natural resources from approving the disposition of public lands under certain circumstances
  • SB918 Limits the term of certain public land leases, including any extensions, to no more that thirty-five years.
  • SB933 Requires that the board of land and natural resources conduct a rent review of all leases and subleases of public land once every ten years.
  • SB934 Prohibits any waste or disposal facility from being located in a conservation district.
  • SB936 Removes 2/3 of the funds from the university managed Mauna Kea special fund. 1/3 to a new Hawaiian Homelands managed special fund. An additional 1/3 to a new Department of Land and Natural Resources special fund.

Many of these bills do not address the mauna by name, but even a quick reading and familiarity with the issue reveals that there is no other reason for these bills to have been advanced.

What do all of these bills have in common? With the exception of House Bill 1067 all of the senate bills were introduced, and likely authored in large part by state Senator Kaialiʻi Kahele.

It appears that Senator Kahele has made it his mission to destroy astronomy on Mauna Kea. When last year’s blatant attempts in the legislature failed, he has become more circumspect, attempting to add layers of bureaucratic barriers to changing anything on the mauna.

SB916 is the clearest example of this. Not only would it likely make any use permit of Mauna Kea legally impossible, it would have the same effect on all state lands.

It is worth going through the bills individually, considering the possible implications of the language. Over the next few days DarkerView will do just that, examining each of these bills.

Taken individually some of these bills seem reasonable enough, when considered as a group it becomes clear there is a distinct goal. This is not about improving management or oversight of the mauna, there are better ways to accomplish improvement. This is about ending astronomy on Mauna Kea.

Shadow on Shadow

I had a plan for this eclipse.

Partially eclipsed Moon rising above the shadow of Mauna Kea
A partially eclipsed Moon rises just above the shadow of Mauna Kea on January 20th, 2019.

I needed a quiet day to work on some code in the Keck 2 dome control PLC. One problem, every time I load code the dome lights go out. Guys working in the dome tend to object to the lights going out randomly.

Answer? Go up on a weekend when there as only a couple guys on duty and not a lot of work going on. I can have the whole telescope and dome to myself most of the day.

There is also a total lunar eclipse.

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Snow on Mauna Kea?

The forecast looks promising. Not for observing, we lost most of the night last night to fog and clouds, the rest of the week looks worse. It does look like we may get some snow this week. Checking the cameras there are already a few flakes coming down, just a degree or so too warm to stick.

Winter is here… Snow for Christmas?

First Snowflakes of Winter
A few snowflakes in the camera… Snow for the holidays?

Update! Sticking now…

First Snow of Winter
The first snowfall of the 2017-2018 winter season atop Mauna Kea.