It was round two at the state Supreme Court today for the Thirty Meter Telescope as justices heard arguments from both sides of the case.
Nearly three years ago the high court heard many of the same arguments in a similar appeal and decided that foes of the telescope had their due process rights violated. The court ordered a do-over of the contested case process.
Following a 44-day contested case hearing in Hilo and another approval by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, the $1.4 billion project once again landed on appeal before the Supreme Court.
During today’s oral arguments, the justices asked pointed questions on both sides of the issue and didn’t seem to signal which way they are leaning — although due process issues once again seemed to dominate the hearing.
Opposition attorney Richard Naiwieha Wurdeman argued, among other things, that the BLNR erred when it allowed former Circuit Court Judge Riki May Amano to be the contested case hearings officer even though she was a member of the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, creating the appearance of bias.
He also argued that state attorneys should not have been allowed to advise Amano because they previously had argued in favor of the project.
Attorneys for the state and permit applicant, the University of Hawaii, discounted the due process arguments.
It’s unknown when the court will issue a ruling. The court is also considering a separate appeal to the project’s sublease with UH. Oral arguments for that case were heard in March.
Joining the six original petitioners in the appeal were 14 others who joined the contested case hearing.
Perpetuating Unique Education Opportunities, a pro-TMT group led by Native Hawaiians, joined UH and TMT International Observatory in arguing for the project.
UH issued the following statement after the hearing:
“The University of Hawaii appreciates the opportunity we had today to present our position supporting Board of Land and Natural Resource’s second approval of a permit to construct the Thirty Meter Telescope. We now look forward to expeditious rulings on both of the TMT cases that remain before the State Supreme Court. UH stands fully committed to collaborative stewardship that demonstrates Maunakea as an inspiring and harmonious global model for culture, the environment and groundbreaking scientific discovery.”
The high court previously invalidated the project’s conditional use permit in December 2015, ruling that the BLNR approved it prior to holding the first contested case.