More Mauna Kea lawsuits; rule-making delayed again; UH regents OK 6-figure steward pay

Always Investigating

A lawsuit seeking to block the governor’s emergency proclamation isn’t the only new legal challenge this week related to Mauna Kea and the Thirty Meter Telescope protests. Another filing asks for a restraining order against Honolulu and Maui County police, alleging they are breaking state law that restricts police powers to their own counties except in specific cases and investigations that originate in the home county.

“The deployment of law enforcement officers from other counties was an unwarranted and unnecessary use of resources and personnel for a non-violent and peaceful gathering of people exercising their rights to free speech and assembly,” said plaintiff Kalani Flores, a cultural practitioner and Hawaii Community College professor.

The Maui and Honolulu police departments have not commented on the pending litigation.

Earlier, University of Hawaii regents postponed finalizing long-awaited rules to govern public and commercial activities on UH-managed lands on Mauna Kea. UH was granted the authority more than a decade ago to regulate activities for cultural and natural resource protection, as well as public health and safety.

“Very much so the people were convinced that UH understood its stewardship as the sublessor and that they would make cultural significance an importance here at Mauna Kea,” said Andrea Tupola, former gubernatorial candidate who spoke to KHON2 at Mauna Kea on Friday. “Clearly that’s not the case, and here we are at a standoff with the government because we’re still not addressing the root of the issue.”

After a series of recent public hearings on draft rules, the UH Board of Regents was originally slated to adopt final regulations yesterday at its July 18 meeting, but the regents postponed decision-making until late August.

In its notice (PDF 201907180000.notice) rescheduling the July 18 decision-making to Aug. 22, the regents notice stated the delay was “in order to fully consider all written and oral submissions regarding the proposed rule that were submitted during the public hearings process.”

Audits have continued to slam the lack of regulation, and annual reports on the 10-year-old Comprehensive Management Plan have tracked slow progress. Gov. David Ige acknowledged this in recent years even while backing the TMT project, stating in 2015: “We have in many ways failed the mountain. Whether you see it from a cultural perspective or from a natural resource perspective, we have not done right by a very special place and we must act immediately to change that.”

UH regents yesterday did, however, ratify a permanent position for an executive director of Mauna Kea stewardship within the Chancellor’s office at salary of about $155,000 a year. Greg Chun has been doing the job in an interim capacity since Feb. 2018. Meanwhile the Office of Mauna Kea Management within the university system also has paid its director position six figures for much of that office’s nearly 20-year existence.

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