TMT hearing may last months with 85 witnesses

By Kevin Dayton  October 25, 2016  Star-Advertiser 

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HILO >> The contested case hearing over a key permit for the Thirty Meter Telescope inched forward today as opponents of the project wrapped up their questions for the first witness called by the University of Hawaii, and moved on to the second.

Supporters and opponents of the $1.4 billion project have notified Hearings Officer Riki May Amano that they intend to call about 85 witnesses, which could cause the hearing in Hilo to extend for weeks or even months.

Today marked the third day of the contested case proceeding, and the third day of questioning for Perry J. White, who was called as the first UH witness. White is principal planner of Planning Solutions Inc., and was the primary author of the conservation district use permit application filed in 2010 for the TMT.

Among the telescope opponents who questioned White was C.M. Kahookahi Kanuha, a leader in last year’s protests at the summit of Mauna Kea. Kanuha said he is representing himself in the hearing as a “Hawaiian patriot,” and asked if White has ever refused to work on a development project because of environmental concerns.

“There’s work I have purposely tried not to get involved in,” White said. When asked if he had ever refused to work on a project because it was being developed on a sacred site, White replied that he had not.

“Do you believe any place in Hawaii is sacred?” Kanuha asked.

“I think the universe is sacred, so I do not make distinctions between different places within it,” White replied.

White acknowledged he had earlier testified that Mauna Kea is not sacred to him, but added that “I treat Mauna Kea with the respect that I try to treat every place and everyone.”

Kanuha then asked, “Do you believe Native Hawaiians should have the ability to determine treatment of their sacred places?”

“Not separately from everyone else,” White replied.

Lawyers for the University of Hawaii also called as a witness Jim Hayes, who is president and principal environmental planner at Planning Solutions, Inc., and was the company’s project manager for the environmental impact statement for the TMT.

Hayes testified the observatory was sited and designed to minimize its impact on views, and would be visible from about 14 percent of Hawaii island. The observatory would be visible from Waimea, but not from the Mauna Kea summit or Lake Waiau near the summit.

UH officials and the Hawaii island business community have worked for years to promote development of the TMT, which would be the most powerful telescope in the world. The project had been scheduled to start construction in 2015, but work on the TMT project was repeatedly blocked last year by protesters who contend the mountain is sacred.

Opponents of the project contend that the university has failed to meet the legal requirements for issuing a new permit for the TMT, and that the Board of Land and Natural Resources has failed in its duty to properly manage the conservation land on the mountain.