Thirty Meter Telescope Hearings Conclude; BLNR to Rule

September 27, 2017, 7:41 AM HST · Updated September 27, 7:44 AM
Crystal Richard · 1 Comment
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The Hawai‘i State Board of Land and Natural Resources heard oral arguments and posed questions during the Contested Case Hearing for the Conservation District Use Application (CDUA) for the Thirty Meter Telescope at the Mauna Kea Science Reserve.

The oral arguments hearing was held last week in Hilo.

Each of the 23 parties at the hearing was allotted 15 minutes to present their oral argument, followed by five-minute rebuttals and questions from the BLNR.

The University of Hawai‘i argued that the project meets the eight criteria for a CDUA, and therefore, the permit should be granted.

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TMT International Observatory Attorney Douglas Ing argued that the project would not interfere with religious practices on Mauna Kea, adding that denying the permit would be fostering one religion over another religion.

“They do not and cannot meet the eight criteria,” said Kealoha Pisciotta of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou.

She argued that Hearing Officer Riki May Amano did not take into account thousands of documents of evidence and suggested the board remand it back to her to do so.

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Intervener Harry Fergerstrom addressed similar concerns over the way the hearing was handled and argued he was the only one not allowed to present his case and witness.

“I trust that you will take this into consideration and take it deeply because it’s very embarrassing to go back to the Supreme Court with the same argument that you lost with before and to find out that you didn’t do what you were told to do but you did it even more recklessly then the first time,” said Fergerstrom.

Pisciotta also addressed concerns over identifying the rights and resources of Native Hawaiians, protecting those resources, due process violations and about Mauna Kea as a water source.

“The protectors are not anti-TMT,” said Temple of Lono representative Lanny Alan Sinkin. “They are not anti-astronomy. They are not anti-science. Spiritually, it would not matter if the project was TMT or a McDonald’s. They are protecting a sacred site from further extensively documented desecration.”

Sinkin also pointed out concerns over the handling of the contested hearing.

“Native Hawaiians were forced to abandon their language in order to be heard in this proceeding,” said Sinkin.

He further argued that TMT proponents have portrayed the Native Hawaiian opposition to the facility as a “clash between superstition and science.”

Sinkin also reiterated concerns over water supply contamination from continued development on the mountain.

The Kahuna of the Temple of Lono closed by stating, “What we are facing here is prejudices, racism and civil rights issues.”

E. Kalanai Flores, representing the Flores-Case ‘Ohana, delivered a scathing oral argument emphasizing the ways the CDUA is deficient and what is mandated by law.

After a heartfelt speech that received a standing ovation, C.M. Kaho‘okahi Kanuha, a self-represented petitioner, said, addressing the University of Hawai‘i, TMT International Observatory LLC (TIO) and BLNR, “Wrong place, wrong time, wrong people. See you on the mauna.”

Mehana Kihoi recounted getting arrested while in prayer on Mauna Kea in 2015. Kihoi argued that TMT will threaten her customary rights in the area and that she will suffer irreparable spiritual harm.

Kihoi argued the construction of TMT will forever change the uniqueness of the landscape of Mauna Kea.

Several parties motioned for a stay if the board does approve the CDUA.

Following the oral arguments and rebuttals, BLNR members asked their remaining questions.

Thomas Oi, Kaua‘i BLNR member, asked TIO Attorney Ing about the height and size of the telescope, saying he was wondering if it was “sort of an eyesore above the ground.”

Stanley Roehrig, Hawai‘i Island member of Keaukaha, heavily questioned the UH and the handling of relations between Hawaiians and astronomy on the mountain; specifically the requests made by Perpetuating Unique Education Opportunities (PUEO).

Roehrig asked UH Attorney John “Pete” Manaut why the University and TIO never once mentioned the conditions requested by PUEO. He explained how each of the conditions were regarding education of at-risk children in Hilo and the Big Island area.

Manaut said that the conditions recommended by PUEO were not something they objected to and were “worthy and something the university can support.”

Manaut continued to say that when it comes down to cost, neither UH or TIO want to pay.

As Roehrig pressed Manaut, UH President David Lassner approached the podium to answer his questions.

President Lassner expressed “excitement” over the idea of a building located at Hale Pohaku (which PUEO calls Imiloa Uka).

“I don’t disagree with some of the testimony that we could do more,” President Lassner said.

President Lassner explained that he didn’t have specifics that day, but that he did support building “something” at the Hale Pohaku level.

Roehrig further questioned Manaut on repairing relationships between astronomers and Hawaiians. Roehrig described it as pitting “Hawaiians against Hawaiians.” He emphasized that they have had a long time to do something to improve relationships.

It is now up to BLNR to rule on the TMT CDUA, a decision many in Hawai‘i have been anxiously anticipating.

Big Island Now will publish additional information as the story develops.

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