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Hawaii Supreme Court to hear challenge to telescope permit

  • Associated Press
    An artist’s rendering shows how the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea will look if construction goes ahead. Aside from the ongoing standstill

Hawaii’s highest court is taking up a legal challenge against a permit for a giant telescope planned for Hawaii’s Big Island.

The state Supreme Court granted an application to transfer the case there from circuit court on Friday.

People are protesting the $1.4 billion telescope to protect land held sacred by Native Hawaiians, among other reasons. The telescope is planned for the summit of Mauna Kea on Hawaii’s Big Island, and would be one of the largest telescopes in the world.

The court will hear a case challenging the telescope group’s conservation district use permit. Construction began in April on Mauna Kea’s summit after seven years of environmental studies, public hearings and court proceedings. A circuit court had upheld the legality of the permit, and the plaintiffs appealed the decision.

Telescope opponents say they’re encouraged by the court’s decision to hear the case because they say it indicates that the court believes the telescope’s permit deserves legal scrutiny.

"We can at least affirm that they consider it an issue of public importance," said Kealoha Pisciotta, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

Supporters of the telescope don’t expect the transfer of the appeal to the Supreme Court to change the anticipated outcome, said Doug Ing, lawyer with Watanabe Ing, which represents the Thirty Meter Telescope, in a statement.

"We remain confident that the court will uphold the previous ruling that the Conservation District Use Permit granted for TMT is consistent with Hawaii law," Ing said.

Astronomers revere the Mauna Kea site because its summit high summit provides a clear view of the sky for 300 days a year, with little air and light pollution. It’s expected to enable scientists to see 13 billion light years away for a glimpse into the early years of the universe.

Telescope opponents also are glad that by bypassing the appeals court because it’s a quicker route to an eventual conclusion.

"There is the impending threat of them trying to start construction again, and the fact that people (protesters) will likely be arrested," Pisciotta said. "Anything to help expedite the process would be helpful."

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