Will access to the mauna be closed permanently?

This one is a new one, at least to me, this bit of misinformation started showing up just after Governor Ige’s press conference that announced the access road closure to allow construction equipment to be moved.

Loading Snow
Loading pickup trucks with snow for export from the mauna.

Why do I get the feeling shit will go down on Mauna Kea with TMT, which will give the authorities the excuse to execute their plan of shutting down the summit road to the public for good? Mountain access stolen….
(Isn’t that part of the new plan? Reducing public’s access? All they need is an excuse to do it sooner than later. What then?)

Demian Barrios, Facebook post, July 11, 2019

Having a good understanding of management to the mauna I know this one to be false. One need only read the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan, Public Access Subplan to know where the official stance on access is. These are the binding management plans for the mauna, and nowhere do these plans permit permanent restrictions on the public’s use of Mauna Kea. Quite the opposite, public and cultural access is to be specifically permitted.

Changing these plans, and changing the access rules requires a full rule making process and public hearings.

Access will only be restricted as long as there is a reasonable public safety justification. Remove that justification access will return. At this point access depends more on the protesters than the state.

But why would this misinformation be bouncing around in social media? It probably stems from a real fear that this may be true, from one who does not understand the management plans for the mauna. This threat is also thriving because it feeds on the desire to smear the state as much as possible as the controversy comes to a head this week.

There is a kernel of truth here, reducing traffic on the mauna is an explicit goal of the management at OMKM. One of the points repeated often during public listening sessions with the community concerning Mauna Kea is too many people, too much traffic.

This has become an increasing problem since the completion of the rebuilt Saddle Road. The road was once a truly hazardous route, now is is the best road on the island. Visitor numbers have jumped significantly.

Responding to input from the local community OMKM has attempted to reduce the traffic in two ways. One is to limit social media and other encouragement to visit the summit. Of course they have no control over most media, but they can discourage official information from the state and the observatories that might invite visitors to the mauna.

The second way OMKM has attempted to limit visitors is to require the use of 4WD vehicles. While this is partly an artificial restriction, having only a passing impact on actual safety, it does effectively limit the number of vehicles on the summit road.

To implement rules on public access the university has proposed a set of administrative rules. These rules have faced widespread criticism from the community, even I agree that the rules are overly restrictive. But even though you can argue about particular rules, nowhere do the rules permit permanent restriction of access to the summit.

Result: Mostly false with a seed of truth

Author: Andrew

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

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