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UH Regents vote for Mauna Kea sublease despite lawsuit, demonstrations

Amid an ongoing lawsuit and student-led demonstrations, the UH Board of Regents met today and voted for a planned sublease that would allow the Thirty Meter Telescope project to proceed.

This morning the student group hauMĀNA (the student wing of Movement for Aloha No Ka ʻĀina) organized a banner drop demonstration at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s (UHM) designated free speech zones to show their opposition to the proposed sublease that establishes terms for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).

The University Board of Regents (BOR) considered the sublease issue during a meeting this morning despite an ongoing lawsuit filed against the university challenging the telescope project itself. The lawsuit is still pending in Hawaiʻi’s Third Circuit Court in Hilo.

In a statement released prior to the meeting, hauMĀNA officials wrote, “Approval of a lease for the TMT would be seen as a hostile act of political marginalization of Hawaiian students at the University, a University that purports to be a Hawaiian place of learning! We are committed to ongoing active opposition of the University’s role in the desecration of our Mauna and we invite you, the regents, to join us.”

However, Jeff Acido, the student member of the Board of Regents, was the only member who voted against the lease proposal at this morning’s meeting.

At the same time, a hearing on the lawsuit was also taking place in Hilo.

“Part of the intention with today’s protest was to stand in solidarity with the Mauna Kea Defense Hui while they were dealing with the court hearing in Hilo,” said Ilima Long, a spokesperson for hauMĀNA. “It seems that the BOR scheduled this meeting over here on the same day thinking the opposition couldn’t be in two places at once.”

But the opposition did show up and, according to Long, was successful in drawing attention on the Mānoa campus to the issue.

“We were able to get a lot more petition signatures opposing the TMT during the demonstration and the BOR was definitely aware of us,” she said. “The BOR, often times, makes their moves and has their meetings with really little attention, especially from students,” said Long. “So our intention today was to turn a large, sudden spotlight on the regents and we feel that we accomplished that.”

UH voluntarily (and temporarily) withdrew its request for new Mauna Kea leases from the DLNR while it conducts an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), but still plans to go ahead with its lease request once the EIS is complete.

The hauMĀNA campaigners believe that because the master lease was held up by the lawsuit and by the EIS, UH’s attempts to negotiate the sublease plan with DLNR are directed at investors and developers interested in the TMT project.

“The sublease is UH’s way of signalling to the developers that, despite the lawsuit and protests like ours, everything is OK regarding the project,” said Long. “We want to keep the pressure on and the contention alive to cancel that signal.”

At the time of publication, UH had not responded to a request for statement from the Independent.

Disclaimer: Hawaii Independent publisher Ikaika Hussey is a board member for KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, one of the groups that is part of the Mauna Kea Defense Hui.

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