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Friday, January 1, 2016
OHA 2016 Legislative Package: Telescope Rent Money, Control of Mauna Kea Tours
By Andrew Walden @ 12:11 AM :: 7276 Views :: Hawaii County , Higher Education, OHA

by Andrew Walden

For OHA, the Mauna Kea telescope is all about rent money.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) Trustees voted December 3 to include the following in OHA’s 2016 Legislative Package:

OHA 8 Mauna Kea Sublease Rules: Requires the University of Hawaii to promulgate rules for the subleasing of Mauna Kea lands, which shall describe the method by which it will ensure a “fair rate of return” in establishing sublease rent.  Provides for a public hearing process for the public and stakeholders to review and comment on proposed sublease terms and fees.

Minutes of a November 18, 2015 OHA Trustees BAE Committee go into more detail:

The first bill OHA-8 is relating to the Mauna Kea subleases. If you recall last time when we had this discussion, one of the longstanding issues we've had with Mauna Kea have been specifically the subleases - surrounding the transparency and accountability with the subleases and how they're approved. The vast majority of subleases on the mountain, all charge nominally just one dollar and there have been limited opportunities for transparency and accountability.

The first sublease that really drew a lot of community interest was the TMT. That process which went through both the Board of Regents and the BLNR for approval, showed a lack of transparency and accountability. It took us a while to understand how they come up with the numbers. After further discussions with OMKM, it became clearer that the numbers for the lease rent seemed more arbitrary. So what we've tried to do to address that issue is create a bill that would require a law for the Board of Regents to do actual rules. The rules would then provide some sort of transparent public process or provide methodology on how they come up with the rent amounts.

Senior Public Policy Advocate Doane: This is consistent with how other public lands are disposed of, either through leasing or licensing. The bulk of the lands that are held by DLNR are disposed of through Chapter 171 and there's a process for how those leases are given out. So there are standards and opportunities for input, and the Department of Agriculture actually leases out their lands through a process established in rulemaking; so this would be very similar to that.

Public Policy Manger Wong: This will all be spelled out in rules. One of the really important aspects of this bill is that the standard we're using is not necessarily fair market rent; it's called "fair rate of return" which is different. If you look at page 4 of the bill, the standards for "fair rate of return" for the bill would include the cost of administering a management plan approved by the BLNR; that was one of our critics of the TMT lease. It wasn't clear how they came up with the evaluation for actually implementing the management plan. Then how they distributed that cost among the leases was also up in the air. So what we want in the rules is for them to require more clearly how they will account for the cost of managing the mountain.

Other standards include: compensation for loss of the use of the leased land and for other uses, compensation for loss of access to the leased land and other areas, potential costs of mitigating environmental degradation, and additional considerations, including but not limited to; the impact of the lease on Native Hawaiian rights, wildlife habitat, and the health of the ecosystem. So this gives a number of different criteria beyond just market rent for UH to consider in subleasing.

Act 132, which passed in 2009, gave rulemaking authority to UH. These are the rules that they've been taking around and having open houses on. Those rules cover commercial activities like the commercial tours. We have consistently told them in writing that they need to include in those rules subleasing and they have consistently told us NO, and that's why the rules that are going around right now don't have specific language relating to the subleases. That's why we want the OHA Board to approve introducing this bill, to make sure that UH does rulemaking specifically for subleasing to create clearer of transparency and accountability.

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