Maui Business

Hawaiʻi Supreme Court Rules in Favor of TMT

October 31, 2018, 7:14 AM HST
* Updated November 1, 12:24 PM
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Artist’s interpretation of the TMT on Mauna Kea. Image courtesy

The Hawaiʻi Supreme Court, by majority decision, issued its opinion affirming the state Board of Land and Natural Resources’ decision to issue a Conservation District Use Permit for construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea.

Those with the TMT International Observatory said they are grateful for the decision and remain committed to being good stewards on the mountain and inclusive of the Hawaiian community.

Both Gov. Ige and representatives with the University of Hawaii said they were pleased with the decision. The governor stated that he believes the project will continue to keep Hawai‘i at the forefront of astronomy.

“The high court reviewed thousands of pages of documents and testimony over many years, so it’s difficult to imagine the monumental task the justices had in reaching this decision,” said Gov. Ige. “We’re pleased the court carefully considered and weighed all the varied and passionate testimony about TMT. We believe this decision is fair and right and will continue to keep Hawai‘i at the forefront of astronomy.”

University of Hawai‘i President David Lassner said, “The University of Hawaiʻi is pleased with the state Supreme Court’s decision to approve the conservation district use permit for the Thirty Meter Telescope project.  We will ensure that this project is accomplished appropriately and with deepest respect for the awesomeness of Maunakea.  TMT will not only represent a major advance in humankind’s knowledge of the universe, it will have tremendously positive educational and economic impacts for the people of Hawaiʻi Island and the entire state. UH stands fully committed to collaborative stewardship that demonstrates Maunakea as an inspiring and harmonious global model for culture, education, the environment and groundbreaking scientific discovery.”

DNLR Chair Suzanne Case said, “We are gratified that the Supreme Court affirmed the Board of Land and Natural Resources’ decision on the Thirty Meter Telescope conservation district use permit.  This has been a very long process, and I want to thank Judge Amano and the Land Board members for their careful diligence in ensuring all voices were heard and considered, the law was applied correctly, and the process was followed fairly. DLNR, as the landowners and conservation district regulators on Mauna Kea, will continue to work closely with UH on next steps to move this project forward.”

Attorney General Russell Suzuki offered the following statement, “The TMT case has wound its way through a drawn out legal process for many years and it’s good to see it come to a successful resolution. The state has a responsibility to follow and apply the appropriate laws and the justices clearly agreed that this is precisely what happened in this case.”

Meantime, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs responded saying they will move forward with a lawsuit alleging the state and the University of Hawaiʻi have neglected legal duties to adequately manage the mountain and have prioritized astronomical development at the expense of properly caring for Maunakea’s natural and cultural resources.  Representatives with OHA further stated:

“The Supreme Court’s ruling today demonstrates an urgent need for the state to create mechanisms to ensure that constitutionally protected traditional and customary practices and cultural resources are not sacrificed or abridged.

“In November 2017, OHA sued to hold the state and UH accountable for its longstanding and well-documented mismanagement of Maunakea. For years, OHA held good faith discussions with the state to stop the state’s failed stewardship. Despite OHA’s best efforts, these discussions broke down several weeks ago.  As a result, OHA is moving forward with its lawsuit.

“After 50 years of empty promises to the mauna and our community, the state needs to be held accountable.  Maunakea deserves better.”

House of Representatives Speaker Scott K. Saiki released the following statement in support of the project:

“Now that the State Supreme Court has ruled, it is incumbent upon government agencies, and particularly the University of Hawaiʻi, to reconcile culture and astronomy. In this modern day, we can have both. The entire world will benefit from our astronomy program.”

Henry Yang, Chair of the TMT International Observatory Board of Governors, issued the following statement in response to the news:


“On behalf of the TMT International Observatory, we are grateful for the Hawaiʻi State Supreme Court’s ruling that will allow TMT to be built on Maunakea. We thank all of the community members who contributed their thoughtful views during this entire process.

“We remain committed to being good stewards on the mountain and inclusive of the Hawaiian community. We will honor the culture of the islands and its people and do our part to contribute to its future through our ongoing support of education and Hawaiʻi Islands’ young people.

“We are excited to move forward in Hawaiʻi and will continue to respect and follow state and county regulations, as we determine our next steps. We are deeply grateful to our many friends and supporters for their tremendous support over the years.”


TMT must now submit construction plans to the DLNR Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands for review and approval. The decision also requires the state to follow the Maunakea Comprehensive Management Plan which includes attention to cultural protocols and training.

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