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.

Curiously the bill never mentions the Department of Land and Natural Resources by name or acronym, merely amending chapter 171 of the Hawaii Statutes. HRS chapter 171 is the chapter covering conservation and the DLNR mission, thus one must assume that the DLNR would be the recipient of the new fund.

These funds are currently used for direct conservation management issues on the mauna, primarily the requirements of the comprehensive management plan. The uses of the current fund are very directed, monies can be spent only on immediate conservation needs on the mauna.

The uses to which the new funds may be put to are much broader, while mostly still Mauna Kea oriented, a wider range of uses could qualify under the expansive language of the bill. This leaves open the question of how well any monies would be spent. While DLNR appears to manage its budgets reasonably well, DHHL is noted for controversy in managing its resources, with ongoing scandals and a less than complimentary result in the most recent state audit.

As the current revenue is generated from the users of the mauna, the observatories and commercial tour operators, it seems proper that the monies be used to directly address the consequences of that use. These currently include road maintenance, operation of the visitor center, invasive species monitoring and prevention, monitoring and preservation of archaeological sites, implementation of the management plan, and similar efforts.

If approved by the legislature, removal of funds from these direct management efforts and spreading them more widely is a disservice to the mauna. With new lease terms for the telescopes it is likely that revenues to the fund will increase in the future, it may be desirable to redistribute funds if the current special fund begins to show a large unused balance. That is an issue for the future, not now.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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