Three Native Hawaiian beneficiaries sued the state Thursday, alleging that Mauna Kea Access Road is Hawaiian homelands property that’s being misused and mismanaged without proper compensation to the Hawaiian Homes Commission and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

The lawsuit further contends that the Hawaiian Homes Commission and DHHL violated their trust duties by doing nothing to stop the use of the road over approximately 65 acres of trust lands.

“We are saying that they cannot use this land rent-free so long as it remains
under the control of the department and the commission,” said Alan Murakami of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., which filed the lawsuit Thursday on behalf of the three Hawaii island residents in state Circuit Court.

The state Department of Attorney General, in a written response to media, said there is no legal argument that Mauna Kea Access Road is under the control or jurisdiction of DHHL. Claims tied to the use of DHHL property for public roads and highways were resolved under a 1995 agreement approved by the Legislature to settle land disputes from statehood through July 1, 1988.

But Murakami said that while Act 14 led to the pledge by the state to pay $600 million ($30 million
annually for 20 years) for general land claims beneficiaries had through 1988, it does not address the issues raised in the lawsuit.

“Our lawsuit is concerned exclusively about the damages caused by the use of this roadway after 1998, which was the end date of the compensation that was designed to be paid under Act 14,” Murakami said. “It’s been going on for 32 years.”

Murakami declined to give even a broad estimate of what the compensation should be, stating it was
a matter DHHL needed to calculate.

Mauna Kea Access Road is the main thoroughfare leading to the Mauna Kea Observatories, including the controversial, unbuilt Thirty Meter Telescope. The section being challenged in the lawsuit runs 6.27 miles from Daniel K. Inouye Highway (formerly Saddle Road) to the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Center.

Those traveling to the
observatories and the summit must travel the remaining 4,600 feet via the gravel and unpaved Summit Access Road, which is managed by the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

All three plaintiffs —
Hawaii island residents Pua­lani Kanakaole Kanahele,
Edward Halealoha Ayau and Kelii “Skippy” Ioane — are leaders in the movement seeking to stop construction of TMT, claiming that the state has abused and desecrated Mauna Kea, which many Hawaiians deem
sacred.

But Ayau said the TMT
issue, while related, is separate from what this lawsuit seeks to achieve.

“What we’re trying to do is return focus to the proper treatment of management of Hawaiian homelands by the Hawaiian Homes Commission, whose authority is being usurped by (Gov. David Ige) and DLNR,” Ayau said.

Ioane equated the situation to a fox, in the form of the state, being handed the keys to the chicken coop by the farmer, or in this case the commission. “How can the state just walk where he like, unrestricted?”

The lawsuit says state employees bulldozed the path that became the access road in 1964. “The state did not obtain authorization from either DHHL or HHC to construct (Mauna Kea Access Road) over Hawaiian home lands,” the lawsuit says.

In July, after hundreds raising objections to construction of the TMT began amassing along the lower portion of the road and began blocking it, the state closed Mauna Kea Access Road to the public to allow for the transport of construction equipment and materials.

After Ayau and others raised questions about the road’s ownership, the departments of Transportation, Land and Natural Resources and Hawaiian Home Lands issued a joint news release in August reiterating the position that the Department of Transportation held control and legal authority over the property.

Attorney General Clare E. Connors said in the August statement, “The state is reviewing the compensation issues related to the use of Hawaiian home lands for public roads and highways, and will ensure they have been addressed. The public is reminded that Mauna Kea Access Road is a public road controlled by DOT and that the current blockade is
unlawful.”

The protesters left the area in late December under a temporary truce reached with Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim.

The Attorney General’s
Office statement Thursday said, “To the extent there remain any outstanding issues regarding compensation pursuant to Act 14, DHHL and the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) are in discussion.”

Hawaiian Homes Commission Chairman William Aila was unavailable for comment Thursday but said in August that “we remain committed to seeing the completion of the few remaining items under Act 14, including ensuring that compensation for the use of roads and highways crossing DHHL lands has been received in full.”