Lā 338: TMT case returns to Land Board

By TOM CALLIS  Hawaii Tribune-Herald  Published February 26, 2016 - 1:30am

Screen Shot 2016 01 14 At 10.37.50 Pm

A Hilo Circuit Court judge officially remanded the Thirty Meter Telescope’s land use permit this week, setting the stage for another review by the state Land Board and a new contested case hearing for the proposed project on Mauna Kea.

But first, a new hearings officer will need to be selected.

Dan Dennison, Department of Land and Natural Resources spokesman, said 11 people have applied for the job, and a screening committee selected by Chair Suzanne Case will review them for qualifications next week.

“They will send everyone that meets minimum qualifications to the Land Board for consideration,” he said.

Dennison estimated that could be on the Board of Land and Natural Resource’s agenda as early as its March 25 meeting in Honolulu.

The hearing allows opponents to make their case against the project regarding impacts to themselves, Native Hawaiian religious practices, the environment and other issues.

“It’s for the mountain, and we’re not afraid to do it again,” said Kealoha Pisciotta, one of the project’s litigants.

A hearings officer ruled in favor of the project in 2012, but TMT’s Conservation District land use permit was tossed by the state Supreme Court in December because the Land Board voted on the matter before the contested case hearing was held.

The high court sent the matter back to Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura, who remanded it to the Land Board on Monday.

The Pasadena, Calif.-based TMT International Observatory says Mauna Kea, considered sacred by some Hawaiians, is still its favorite spot for the next-generation telescope, but it is looking for backup sites in case it doesn’t get the permit back or if the process drags on for too long.

Scott Ishikawa, TMT spokesman, clarified Thursday that TMT’s deadline for receiving another permit is sooner than the recently stated date of September 2017.

He said TMT wants to know whether it can proceed by late this year or early next year so TMT partners know if they can meet a funding deadline for the following fall.

“That’s the goal for the permit,” Ishikawa said.

“Early next year or late this year.”

Pisciotta said that timeline is “ambitious” given that the previous hearing took more than a year to complete.

TMT’s partners include Caltech, University of California, Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy, and national institutes in Japan, China and India.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune -herald.com.