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More illegal tour operators are heading to Mauna Kea - Honolulu, Hawaii news, sports & weather - KITV Channel 4

More illegal tour operators are heading to Mauna Kea

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HONOLULU -

For some, Mauna Kea is a sacred place.

"We all know that Mauna Kea is in jeopardy," William Freitas, a testifier said. 

For others, it's an attraction, luring roughly 300 to 500 visitors per day.

According to a tour operator, that number might be on the rise.

"Taxies, guys going up in unmarked cars being sly about it, and tour operators who think no one can stop us so we're going," Rob Pacheco, tour operator said. 

Tour operators are becoming a problem, according to the Office of Mauna Kea Management.

Eight tour companies have permits but those inside the industry say many more continue to make their way up the mountain illegally.

"I don't see why we can't stop two wheel drive traffic going up the mountain today," Pacheco said. 

Pacheco has a permit. He pays roughly $50,000 per year to operate there.

He and others say Mauna Kea's Rangers need more authority enforce rules to prevent the added traffic from tarnishing the mountain.

"In particular, it would help keep two wheeled vehicles from driving on that road," Doug Simons, Executive Director, Canada - France, Hawaii Telescope said. 

"Probably the greatest thing that's happened on the mountain was the rangers," Pacheco said. 

Questions and criticism over how the University of Hawaii can improve its comprehensive management plan was brought up to the Board of Land and Natural Resources in its annual meeting.

"How do we protect Mauna Kea," Freitas asked. 

Some urged the BLNR to let Telescope leases expire...

"I would say the university's advocacy for the TMT is not rectifying the problem that was identified in 1998," Candace Fujikane, professor at the University of Hawaii said.

The university's plan does include decommissioning of telescopes.

Three have been identified thus far.    The first of which could take three to four years to complete.

"It may seem like a long time but this is the first time we've done a decommissioning of a telescope," Stephanie Nagata, director, Office of Maunakea Management said. 

The office of Maunakea Management says it's moving cautiously to make sure decommission is done correctly.

"We recognize that we are not where we need to be yet and we have a long way to go," Greg Chun, Mauna Kea Management Board Member said.