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Saturday, April 11, 2015
Telescope: For OHA, it’s all About the Rent Money
By Andrew Walden @ 12:51 AM :: 19733 Views :: Higher Education, OHA

by Andrew Walden

It's all about the money.

Celebrities and the usual professional protesters are piling in to block work crews from laying the foundation for Mauna Kea’s Thirty Meter Telescope.  Seizing her 15 minutes of fame, anti-telescope leader Kealoha Pisciotta tells CBS News: “(Mauna Kea) is the burial grounds of some of our most sacred and revered ancestors.  It is a place where we go for sanctuary and release from the world around us, and it is also the home of our god."

As the media’s illusory graph of the body politic busily traces the arch of hysteria, Pisciotta didn’t tell CBS about her “economic proposal”—Lease rent for “god’s home” of “$50 million per year.”  And nobody mentioned Clayton Hee’s 2002 demand for astronomers to cough up “$20 million in endowments” for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). 

But it didn’t take long for OHA to wake up and smell the money.  After three days of protests, Trustee Peter Apo argued the earlier payoffs centering on Hilo's Imiloa Center were no longer enough:

UH pays the state $1 a year for the land lease. UH then sub-leases to the observatories for $1 a year.  Then the observatories sell telescope viewing time. The average viewing time rate I’m aware of was $1 per second….

So how does one bridge the apex when science slams head on into culture?  … An expensive, congressionally supported attempt to bridge the gap between the two sides gave rise to the Hilo-based ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, a cultural science museum and planetarium which is intended to bring the Hawaiian community and astronomers together to discuss and mitigate their differences. While ‘Imiloa has been an educational boon for Hilo, from a political perspective, it seems to have fallen short of its diplomatic objective of building a bridge between the two camps.

With Apo calling for a construction “stand-down” KITV reports, “getting rid of the telescopes is not his goal.”  What is the goal?  At a July 15, 2014 Board of Trustees discussion, OHA Public Policy Manager Sterling Wong explained “the rent has been OHA's primary concern.” 

As Trustees last summer decided to drop a proposal to join calls for a contested case hearing on TMT, the word “rent” or “rental” came up 22 times, including these juicy tidbits from the minutes:

“should OHA fund efforts to stop the hopeful first step of the highest ever lease rent?” – Leonard Hashijo, Hawaii Council of Carpenters

“10% of the rent amount will be going to OHA and possibly a proposal for 20%” – Peter Lee, Hawaii Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust (LECET)

“$250,000 will go to the Ke Ali'i Pauahi Foundation for Hawaiian students. The other $750,000 goes to the Hawaii Community Foundation. This is over and above the percentage of rent coming to OHA.” – Trustee Robert Lindsey

“The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) also has land on Mauna Kea. She asks that some of the rent go to them as well.” -- Lilian Kaeha

“DHHL will have to make their own request.” – then-OHA-Chair Colette Machado

“It is correct that Trustees support the project; this property is an important part of a much larger picture. The State is not serious about the ceded land revenue discussion.” – Trustee Peter Apo

“As fiduciaries the Trustees are responsible for making sure that OHA collects enough to fund beneficiary programs. The University has taken license to do things out of their jurisdiction. The University is the real culprit, not the TMT.” – Trustee Rowena Akana

“…(I applaud) OHA for looking at this from a fiduciary standpoint. If this telescope will be built then please make sure Native Hawaiians get its share of the rents.” – Marilyn Leimomi Khan

Under the Hawaii Admission Act, ceded lands are to be used for five purposes including, “the support of the public schools and other public educational institutions.”

UH Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney wrote, in a May 22, 2014 “Application for Consent to Sublease”:

In 2009, the State Legislature passed Act 132 which authorized the UH to charge fees for the sublease and use of lands within the UH Management Areas provided that (J) the fees be established at an open public meeting subject to HRS Chapter 92, (2) the subleases comply with all statutory requirements in the disposition of ceded lands, and (3) any proceeds collected, including all fees and sublease rents, be deposited in the Mauna Kea Lands Management Special Fund established by HRS § 304A-2.170 for the sole purpose of managing the lands, facilities and resources within the UH Management Areas of Mauna Kea. At an open public meeting on February 20, 2014, the Board of Regents of the University of Hawai'i approved the fees negotiated with TIO for sublease rents set forth in the attached copy of the Sublease and Non-Exclusive Easement Agreement between TMT International Observatory LLC and University of Hawai'i....

Peter Lee told Trustees: “We believe the sublease amount is fair and equitable, and that the issue on the percentage owed to OHA, should be discussed between the University of Hawaii and OHA.”

UH?  OHA?  Which gang of kleptocrats steals more money?  Hard to say.  The only certainty is that this type of rent-seeking activity is at the root of Hawaii’s high cost of living and lack of economic diversity.

Are protesters asking OHA to go back on the cash deal it made to support TMT at the close of that multi-year process last summer?  It’s not that simple.  The Mauna Kea master lease expires in 2033.  The real question is whether OHA can force an early reopener and get an even larger cut of the action. 

Straney continues:

The term of the Sublease will expire on December 31, 2033, the termination date of the Mater Lease.  The Sublease requires the University to use its best efforts to complete the process currently underway to obtain mutual cancellation of the current master lease and concurrent issuance of a new master lease for the MKSR for a term of 65 years, as submitted by the UH in its request to the BLNR in November, 2013.  Upon successful completion of that process, the Sublease provides that its term will automatically be extended to 65 years after its effective date, or upon expiration or termination of the new master lease, whichever first occurs.

There are even sinecures for the activists:

The Sublease also contains provisions expressly requiring TIO to conform to current community-based management and stewardship standards for Mauna Kea.

KITV reports from the April 9, 2015 OHA Board of Trustees meeting: “OHA board members told the crowd they'll will spend the next few weeks reviewing why they supported the TMT.  They said they'd present their findings at their next board meeting in May.”  Trustee Collette Machado handed protesters, “A stack of $100s.”

The “fifteen minutes” will be up before May, but who knows?  OHA rent-seeking is all about preserving hysteria’s arch for future use.  Anti-telescope hysteria has been frozen and defrosted again and again for decades.

UPDATE: OHA Trustees April 11 released a statement calling for an extended moratorium and "emphasiz(ing) the need for all parties to address the unresolved legal matters while the TMT construction moratorium remains in place."  Gov Ige April 12 announced the Thirty Meter Telescope management has agreed to extend the construction moratorium to April 20.


2009: Thirty Meter Telescope Selects Mauna Kea -- Let the looting begin!

2008: Telescope: The Shakedown begins

Price of OHA’s rent-seeking: OHA driving Hawaiians out of Hawaii

PDF: Contested Case Submittals

PDF: OHA BOT Minutes July 15, 2014


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