HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A retired Big Island judge could decide if the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope should be built on Mauna Kea.
On Friday, the Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairperson Suzanne Case issued a minute order to the contested case parties announcing Riki May Amano as the selected hearing officer.
Amano, a Hilo native, served as a district and circuit court judge for 11 years before retiring in April 2003. She's also a member of the Honolulu Ethics commission.
While supporters of the $1.4 billion project applaud the progress, opponents are voicing concerns about the process in how Amano was selected.
"What the state is required to do, according to the board's own rules, is to have the board hold a public hearing pursuant to Sunshine Law, then make a determination first as to whether itself would conduct a contested case hearing," said Attorney Richard Naiwieha Wurdeman. "If they decide not to, it can then decide to delegate that function to a hearing officer."
According to Wurdeman, the state skipped that entire step and went straight to selecting Amano, without holding a public hearing.
Wurdeman says this isn't the first time the state has taken a shortcut. In December 2015, the Hawaii Supreme Court invalidated a permit issued by BLNR to build the TMT on Mauna Kea, stating it did not follow due process and that the board issued the permit prior to holding a contested case hearing.
"There are rules set forth and the board has to follow those rules and again, they're completely disregarding their own rules," said Wurdeman. "It's not only justice being done, but it's the appearance of justice."
TMT spokesperson Scott Ishikawa released the following statement Friday:
"This is good news. We appreciate the Board of Land and Natural Resources for its selection and look forward to the next steps in the process."
Wurdeman says he will file formal written objections next week with the board. Results will determine if the board will return to court.
In the meantime, Amano will determine the hearing schedule. TMT officials are looking for alternative sites in case the telescope can't be built in Hawaii.