By Office of Hawaiian Affairs

In March, Honolulu Circuit Judge Jeffrey P. Crabtree issued an order allowing OHA to continue its lawsuit against the University of Hawai‘i (UH) and the State for breach of fiduciary duty and for injunctive relief arising out of their failed management of Mauna Kea.

OHA released the following statement after the Judge Crabtree’s March ruling:

OHA is pleased to be able to pursue its legitimate breach of fiduciary duty claims against the University and the State for their longstanding and well-documented failures as stewards of Mauna Kea, which will ultimately help improve the quality of the State’s management of the mountain as well as its ceded lands resources.

After 50 years of empty promises to the mauna and our community, the State must be held accountable. Mauna Kea deserves better.

UH claimed to be “pleased” that Judge Crabtree dropped one of OHA’s claims and “believes that the remaining claim is without merit and will continue to fully litigate against this claim.” The core of the lawsuit, however, is OHA’s breach of fiduciary duty claim, which the court recognized as actionable thereby upholding OHA’s right to continue the litigation.

In November 2017, OHA filed its lawsuit against UH and the State for their mismanagement of Mauna Kea, which is documented in four scathing state audit reports spanning nearly two decades. In a 2010 study, UH conceded that from a cumulative perspective, past, present and reasonably foreseeable future activities resulted in substantial and adverse impacts to the mauna’s cultural, archaeological, historical and natural resources.

In 2015, the leadership of both the State and UH publicly admitted to their failure to meet their management responsibilities. Gov. David Ige said that the State has “not done right by” and “failed” the mountain, and UH President David Lassner stated that UH “has not yet met all of [its] obligations to the mountain or the expectations of the community.”

Given the State’s public admissions about failing the mauna, OHA viewed this as an opportunity to facilitate meaningful resolution of this ongoing problem. OHA formed its own Ad Hoc Committee on Mauna Kea and began negotiating with the State and UH. After taking the laboring oar in these negotiations for over two years, and with no meaningful resolution,, OHA was forced to file suit.

At the time the lawsuit was filed in 2017, OHA Trustee Dan Ahuna, the chair of OHA’s Ad Hoc Committee on Mauna Kea, said: “The State and UH have failed to properly mālama Mauna Kea and have demonstrated their inability to ensure that the environmental and cultural significance of the mountain is recognized and protected,” “this is not about any one telescope. This lawsuit is about addressing the state’s failure to manage the entire mountain for nearly half a century.”

Ahuna continued: “It’s time to abandon any hope that UH is capable or even willing to provide the level of aloha and attention to Mauna Kea that it deserves. We need to come together as a community to completely re-think how we care for the mauna, and that starts with cancelling the University’s master lease.”

With the court’s recent ruling on OHA’s lawsuit, OHA was given the green light to pursue serious avenues of redress against UH and the State, and, to finally achieve justice for Mauna Kea.

For more information on OHA’s Mauna Kea lawsuit, please visit www.oha.org/maunakea.

Photo: Summit of Mauna kea
There are currently 13 observatories on the summit of Mauna Kea, with one more planned. – Photo: KWO File