Legislative Rebuff

It appears that every single bill attempting to address Mauna Kea issues is dead, at least for the 2019 session.

The moon rising in partial eclipse over the mauna shadow
The moon rising in partial eclipse over the mauna shadow

March first is a deadline referred to as ‘first decking’ in local legislative lingo. This is the date by which the bill must be in final form to allow review before the final votes. No vote, no crossover, being passed to the opposite chamber, house or senate.

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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.
  • 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.

HB1067 Mauna Kea Development Moratorium

With the Hawaii state legislature now in session we now have a clear view of those bills targeting the controversy on Mauna Kea. While of the bills concerning the mauna are indirect, one is quite direct. HB1067 is a complete ban on any development above 6,000ft on Mauna Kea. Blunt and simple.

The Thirty Meter Telescope
An artist concept of TMT at night, with the laser guide star system illuminated.

Introduced by representative Amy A. Perruso  representing central Oahu district 46, Launani Valley and Wahiawa . The bill has a long introduction, but a very simple change to the state statutes…

§304A-    Mauna Kea conservation district lands; development; prohibition.  Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, no new construction or development on conservation lands on the Mauna Kea summit located at six thousand feet above sea level and higher shall take place after December 31, 2019.

HB1067 from the 2019 Hawaii Legislature
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