HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After a three-year legal battle, the fate of the Thirty Meter Telescope will now be decided by the Hawaii Supreme Court.
The high court Thursday heard oral arguments before a courtroom packed with opponents of the $1.4 billion telescope and University of Hawaii officials and other TMT supporters.
Native Hawaiian protesters broke out into chant in the courtroom before the start of the hearing, in which their attorneys argued that the 18-story structure will further desecrate land they consider sacred.
"If the court does not reverse this ruling ... and stop this development, then development on Mauna Kea will never end," said Richard Wurdeman, attorney for the opponents.
Associate Justice Michael Wilson grilled TMT supporters about the same issue.
"You have this analysis that says that the adverse cultural impact will be added to, and added to, added to, and added to. I don't know where it stops quite frankly," said Wilson.
Proponents touted the telescope's scientific benefits and minimized the cultural impacts.
"TMT will allow Hawaii to remain at the forefront of astronomical discoveries for years to come," said Ross Shinyama, attorney for TMT.
John Manaut, an attorney for the University of Hawaii Hilo, added: "There were no actual, traditional and customary practices that were identified within the 8.7 acre petitioned area," Manaut said.
Opponents also want the land board's decision overturned because of an alleged conflict of interest by the hearings officer, retired judge Riki May Amano. Amano approved the permit.
They allege that Amano was in conflict because she was a member of the Imiloa Astronomy Center, which is connected to UH Hilo and has received some funding from the TMT.
"That whole issue of stone-cold neutrality and appearance of justice and appearance of being fair and just, I think was compromised," said Wurdeman.
But attorneys for the Land Board said there is no conflict.
"She had no involvement in the control ,management or governance of Imiloa ... Her alleged relationship to UH was too remote and tenuous to create an appearance of impropriety," said Clyde Wadsworth, an attorney for the Land Board.