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Telescope foes appeal hearing decisions to Hawaii high court


    This undated file artist rendering made available by the TMT Observatory Corporation shows the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope, planned to be built atop Mauna Kea.

Hearings are still underway for a permit to build what would be one of the world’s largest telescopes on Mauna Kea, but a group challenging the project is already appealing to the state Supreme Court.

Thirty Meter Telescope opponents are challenging various decisions that have been made regarding contested-case proceedings, including affirming the hearings officer and an order limiting each party’s questioning of a witness to 30 minutes.

In 2011, telescope opponents requested so-called contested-case hearings before the state land board approved a permit to build on conservation land. The hearings were held, and the permit was upheld. Opponents then sued. In December 2015, the state Supreme Court revoked the permit, ruling the land board’s approval process was flawed. That meant the application process needed to be redone, requiring a new hearing.

Honolulu attorney Richard Wurdeman filed the appeal Monday for members of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou and KAHEA: The Hawaiian Environmental Alliance. He’s the same attorney who withdrew from representing the group in the hearings, citing scheduling conflicts. He could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

“We believe there’s no merit to this appeal, said Dan Meisenzahl, spokesman for the University of Hawaii, which is applying for the permit. “We look forward to completing a fair and impartial hearing process.”

The hearings started last month and continue next week.

The land board affirmed retired Big Island Judge Riki May Amano over objections from telescope opponents who wanted her replaced. Mauna Kea Anaina Hou argued that there was an appearance of impropriety because Amano rode in a vehicle with an employee of the Office of Mauna Kea Management during a visit of project’s site. But the land board found that Amano rode with a state law enforcement officer and there was no evidence of an appearance of impropriety.

The hearings have been moving slowly and Amano recently restricted cross-examination of witnesses to 30 minutes per party. There are about two dozen people participating in the quasi-judicial proceedings who are allowed to cross-examine witnesses.

“We’re not trained lawyers and sometimes it’s difficult to figure out the way in which to ask questions,” said Kealoha Pisciotta, one of the group’s leaders.

Wurdeman filed the appeal directly to the state Supreme Court because of a law that took in effect in August that allows certain contested-case hearing decisions to bypass the Intermediate Court of Appeals.

State Rep. Scott Saiki, who introduced the measure, said previously that the telescope project was one of the cases that inspired the bill. The law aims to streamline the appeal process and to allow for decision to be made more quickly, he said.

Telescope officials have said they want a permit in place by the end of the year or early next year in order to resume construction in 2018. They recently announced that a mountain in the Canary Islands, Spain, is the primary alternative in case the telescope can’t be built in Hawaii.

“We continue to support (the land board’s) commitment in carrying out a fair, transparent and expedient process,” said Thirty Meter Telescope spokesman Scott Ishikawa. “We remain hopeful that a permit can be issued in a timely manner to allow TMT construction in April 2018.”

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  • TMT backers need to understand just how backwards the Nei is. Afraid of change and new technology, simple minded people just can’t handle it.

    Better they take the TMT and move to a modern, progressive country where people embrace technology and change. Definitely not going to happen here.

  • He Hawaii Au. I’m tired of professional Hawaiians taking away opportunities from the children for their own half-baked half-researched agenda. The people of old resonated with the environment, and their lives included training star gazers and adze makers. Mauna Kea gave both groups, and many others, opportunities to strive for excellence. But some would deny this for some pie-in-the-sky dream at best, and to get concessions at worst. It is wrong to throw up barriers which would feather your own nests. So yes, press that the state of Hawaii do things by the law, but be certain that in your opposition you are not harming na pua o ka lahui. Consider that before they move this opportunity to the Canaries. He Hawaii Au.

  • “We’re not trained lawyers and sometimes it’s difficult to figure out the way in which to ask questions,” said Kealoha Pisciotta, one of the group’s leaders.

    Then get a trained attorney to help or represent you Kealoha. It is the hearing officer’s job to be impartial, not to encourage or allow unreasonable delays by one side. Stop whining and get on with it.

  • What is the purpose of TMT opposition here ? It seems they want to restrict use of the area regardless of positive benefits to Hawaiian society ?

    Is the purpose of TMT opposition to deny further exploration and understanding of the universe by mankind with a state of the art telescope placed in a uniquely gifted location for instellar observation ?

    Is the purpose of the TMT oppoistion to waste an opportunity for enhanced Hawaii Island educational resources on the order of $1000000 per year as guaranteed in the TMT development plan ?

    Who exactly is using the proposed TMT area for traditional practices ?
    How many people are regularly using the site for practices, 20 people, none, how many ?

    Should use of Hawaii state resources be determined by a very small contingent of potential area users who have a distinct and separate agenda to support Hawaiian sovereignty over any other beneficial use for citizens of Hawaii ?

    The assertion that the TMT project is going to produce negative cultural benefits for Native Hawaiians is very questionable. I have no business interest in TMT and think that the lack of real and documented evidence of development concerns for the TMT makes for a clear decision to go forward and fully support the TMT from an individual, state, national, and human-kind perspective.

    The opponents of TMT are spouting BS and need to be held accountable for their lack of consideration of the benefits of TMT for the entire set of citizens of Hawaii.

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