Judge: Thirty Meter Telescope should be given OK to move forward

Judge: Thirty Meter Telescope should be given OK to move forward
Published: Jul. 26, 2017 at 8:42 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 27, 2017 at 6:45 AM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A former Circuit Court judge has recommended that the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope project be allowed to move forward atop Mauna Kea.

The recommendation now goes to the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.

Circuit Court Judge Riki May Amano made the recommendation four months after a lengthy contested case hearing wrapped up. In making the decision, Amano had to weigh hundreds of exhibits and hours of testimony.

TMT Executive Director Ed Stone said he looks forward to the "next steps" in seeking a conservation district use permit for the project.

"We appreciate that Judge Riki Amano worked carefully and tirelessly to ensure all voices were heard during the contested case hearing," he said, in an emailed statement. "We are grateful to all our supporters and friends who have been with us during the hearing process and over the past 10 years and we remain respectful of the process to ensure the proper stewardship of Mauna Kea."

Meanwhile, opponents of the project expressed disappointment at the decision Wednesday evening, saying they believe Amano rushed to make a call.

"I am really disappointed because I thought Riki May Amano would at least give the facts a detailed look," said Kealoha Pisciotta, a staunch opponent of the project. "There's thousands of pages of documentation and hundreds, if not thousands, of facts that need to be decided and she needs to answer those."

"I think it's safe to say that this is one of the largest, one of the most highly-contested contested case hearings in the history of the fake state of Hawaii, and to make a decision so quickly, I find that surprising," said Kahookahi Kanuha, who was among those arrested at Mauna Kea while trying to block construction crews from reaching the summit.

Amano's recommendation came after five months of testimony, and her order included 31 conditions, including guidance on how to handle newly-discovered burials and cultural sites, requirements for "substantial rent," and $1 million a year for STEM education in the community.

Amano had no deadline for making her recommendation in the case, but TMT officials hope to re-start construction in April.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources said the Land Board will set deadlines for parties in the case to file responses to the recommendation. A date for oral arguments will then be set, and the board will make a final decision.

Attorney General Doug Chin said, in an interview on Hawaii News Now Sunrise, that the Land Board will put out an agenda that would give parties an opportunity to respond to the findings, object or say which ones they approve of, and also look at recommendations.

"Ultimately there's going to be an approval or disapproval from the Land Board," he said.

Following the Land Board's order, the issue will undoubtedly head to the state Supreme Court.

The project has generated intense controversy over its location on Mauna Kea, which is land sacred to Native Hawaiians.

In a statement Wednesday, Gov. David Ige thanked Amano for her work and said his office is reviewing the conditions included in her decision.

"Regardless of the BLNR's ultimate decision, I support the co-existence of astronomy and culture on Mauna Kea along with better management of the mountain," Ige said, in a statement.

In December 2015, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state's permit for construction of the large telescope was invalid, saying officials had "put the cart before the horse" in issuing the permit before a contested case hearing was held.

But work on the $1.4 billion telescope has been stalled since spring 2015, when large protests blocked crews from going up the mountain.

Opponents of the telescope argue it would desecrate sacred lands and be detrimental to the environment. But supporters argue those concerns can be mitigated.

TMT officials had originally planned for eight years of construction, which would have meant the telescope would be operational by 2024.

Opponents remain steadfast and plan to block the telescope, one way or another. Late Wednesday night, Office of Hawaiian Affairs vice chair Dan Ahuna recommended that OHA file suit against the state and the University of Hawaii to block the telescope.

"I find it troubling that Judge Amano has essentially rubber stamped this project with no assurances that the voices of the Native Hawaiian community will be accommodated and has provided a recommendation for for UH to move forward without having adopted administrative rules for Mauna Kea as it has been instructed to do since 2009," said Ahuna, in an email.

"My recommendation will be to file suit against the State and UH immediately to ensure proper mechanisms are created and implemented before this or any other project breaks ground on Mauna Kea," Ahuna said.

"Whether that be through the process and participating in the system, or that be doing what we did last time and having a presence on Mauna Kea, TMT will not be built on Mauna Kea," said Kanuha.

2003 Observatory corporation formed by CalTech, Canada, University of California
2010 Environmental Impact Statement completed
2011 Permit approved by state Land Board
2011 First contested case hearing
2013 Permit granted
May-15 Protests block construction
Dec-15 Supreme Court revokes permit
Mar-16 TMT leaders consider other sites
Oct-16 Second contested case hearing begins
Mar-17 Contested case hearing ends
Jul-17 Hearings officer supports permit
STILL TO COME Land Board review of permit
STILL TO COME Possible state Supreme Court appeal

To read Amano's full recommendation, click here.

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