TMT reps want a say in case challenging permit


Thirty Meter Telescope representatives are looking to offer input on the case involving six petitioners challenging the state’s decision to grant a permit for the construction of one of the world’s largest telescopes on the top of Mauna Kea.

Representatives from the California-based project are expected to file an “amicus brief” or a “friend of the court” brief Thursday that would allow them to speak on the case involving the Board of Land and Natural Resources’ decision to grant a permit to the University of Hawaii at Hilo for the construction of the $1.3 billion initiative.

If the court approves the request, TMT Corporations would have a right to speak on the case and its issues.

The TMT project formed in 2003 and involves observatories and universities from Canada, Japan, China, India and the United States. The telescope was anticipated to be the largest of its kind, with a primary mirror that would be approximately 30 meters long. Currently, the world’s largest telescope, the European Extremely Large Telescope, is set to be built in Chile.

The telescope would allow astronomers to watch for new-forming stars and planets, and will search for the very first stars and galaxies in the universe.

Kealoha Pisciotta, president of Native Hawaiian group Mauna Kea Anaina Hou and one of the six petitioners involved in the case, argues that the construction of the telescope on a “spiritual and historic site” is a concern, and the state has a duty to take that into consideration.

Oral arguments were heard on Dec. 13 by Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura. Richard Naiwieha Wurdeman, the appellant’s legal counsel, said BLNR violated due process when approving the Conservation District Permit because the approval came before a contested case hearing was heard.

However, Stuart Handlin, legal counsel for UH-Hilo, argued BLNR has rules that allow for a contested case hearing to be held after any public hearing.

Julia China acted as legal counsel for BLNR at the Dec. 13 hearing and said the board was required to take into consideration the economic and social benefits of the project as well as its effects on the land at the time of the approval.

Representatives from the project said TMT will benefit the Big Isle’s economy by increasing the local workforce and providing $1 million a year in educational programs and scholarships to Hawaii Island students.

Pisciotta said the hearing is “unexpected,” but she “has faith in the system and believes that justice will prevail in the end.”

TMT spokesperson Sandra Dawson did not comment on the upcoming hearing.

Dawson previously told Stephens Media Hawaii that plans are in the works to start construction in the second quarter of 2014, pending a final decision of the TMT Board of Directors and a sublease granted by UH.

The hearing will take place at 8 a.m. Thursday in Nakamura’s courtroom.

Email Megan Moseley at mmoseley@hawaiitribune-herald.com.