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.

(3)(c) The board of land and natural resources shall not approve any public land disposition if:
(1)  Approval of the disposition would adversely impact trails, historical sites, cultural sites, traditional practices, or natural resources;

Language from SB916, Hawaii Legislature 2019 session

It is hard to envision a single case anywhere in the state where there would be no impact on surrounding resources . There is always some impact. Current law allows measuring the impact upon surrounding resources against the benefits of the use along with consideration of mitigation plans that can offset that impact.

This one provision alone should give any elected official pause before supporting SB916. Preventing the state in making any use of state lands runs contrary to the remainder of land use law.

There are a few other troubling provisions in the proposed bill. A requirement to consider all other uses and options for use of the land could easily be used as a legal pretext for lawsuits to tie up and delay a project. Indeed most of the other provisions, while seemingly reasonable can be used in the same manner.

The conclusion is that SB916 is a Trojan horse, a collection of provisions that may seem reasonable in a cursory reading, while revealed to be problematic when properly considered. There is no reasonable need for these provisions, existing law and legal precedent is sufficient.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

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