The Office of Hawaiian Affairs filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the state and the University of Hawai'i for what the group calls the "longstanding and well-documented mismanagement of Mauna Kea."
OHA is asking the court to order the state to fulfill its trust obligations and to terminate UH's general lease for the mountain due to breach of lease terms.
"The state and UH have failed to properly malama Mauna Kea and have demonstrated their inability to ensure that the environmental and cultural significance of the mountain is recognized and protected, " said OHA Trustee Dan Ahuna, the chair of OHA's Ad Hoc Committee on Mauna Kea. "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."
According to OHA, there have been four state audits. The initial audit in 1998 concluded that "little was done" to protect the natural resources on Mauna Kea since the first telescope was constructed in 1968. The three follow-up state audits revealed that while some progress has been made, more needed to be done.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources released the following statement:
"We are in the process of reviewing the complaint. DLNR remains committed to its stated mission of enhancing, protecting, conserving and managing Hawaii's unique and limited natural, cultural and historic resources held in public trust...in partnership with others from the public and private sectors. We will comment further at an appropriate time."
UH is speaking out against OHA's claims.
"It's really a shame because so many people have worked so hard to create a better environment on the mountain," said UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl.
UH says OHA's allegations are outdated and the agency isn't acknowledging the status of UH's current management in place.
"We have a track record of a number of accomplishments on the mountain," said Meisenzahl.
UH did admit that a 1998 state auditor report as a wake up call. Since then, UH said it implemented a Master Plan including community-based management, added rangers, and completed an archaelogical survey of the mountain and a long list of other accomplishments.
"The one thing I would say is that in the 1998-2014 State Auditor's Report, it said, I quote, 'We find that UH has developed several management plans that provide a comprehensive framework for managing and protecting Mauna Kea while balancing the competing interest of culture conservation, scientific research, and recreation.'"
In 2015, Gov. David Ige said that the state has "not done right by" and "failed" the mountain. Click here to read Gov. Ige's full statement on Mauna Kea. UH President David Lassner supported the governor's plan for Mauna Kea.