Calls to remove Thirty Meter Telescope hearing officer grow

Calls to remove Thirty Meter Telescope hearing officer grow

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - There are growing concerns about the hearing officer for the Thirty-Meter Telescope project's Mauna Kea contested permit.

First it was TMT opponents who raised questions about retired Judge Riki May Amano's potential conflicts, citing her paid membership at the Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo.

Then the University of Hawaii filed a request asking for her removal, after officials said they were concerned opposition to Amano would cause further delays.

And most recently, TMT officials joined the growing list of people asking to replace Amano, saying perhaps it would be best to move forward with someone else.

Given the growing list of people calling for Amano's removal, some legal experts are surprised the state Board of Land and Natural Resources has yet to make a decision.

"They probably ... want to do it right, within a reasonable amount of time,"  said Robert Thomas, a land use attorney. "But you know, while it's been hanging out there, it's kind of put the whole process into limbo until they decide what to do."

TMT filed the paperwork for Amano's removal with the state land board last week, just days after UH did the same.

Attorneys for the Mauna Kea telescope project, which has stalled, said their request shouldn't be "construed as a lack of faith" in Amano's abilities, but was meant to eliminate any potential risk of appeal that may result from her selection and "to minimize any further delay."

Thomas said the opposition to Amano could be part of a larger strategy from TMT opponents.

"A lot of times the goal of the objectors is -- you've heard of death by a thousand cuts -- well, they call it death by a thousand days. As long as you can tie the project up -- whether you win or lose in the end doesn't matter," he said.

There's no doubt replacing Amano will stall the process, but legal experts say it's a temporary setback that could ultimately benefit TMT.

New legislation that goes into effect on August 1 will give the state Supreme Court direct review over decisions like those made by the land board.

"Generally speaking, they push the timing -- but on this one, maybe it's better to do a little bit of a delay," Thomas said. "At which point that new law kicks in and covers it, in which case you skip over a year's worth of process and go straight to the Supreme Court, where I think it's a pretty good bet they're going to be anyway."

The Department of Land and Natural Resources declined comment on the issue. There is also no timeline for a decision to be made by the land board.

Copyright 2016 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.