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Hawai`i Supreme Court Approves Thirty Meter Telescope Construction

Thirty Meter Telescope artists rendition. TMT photo.

The Hawai`i Supreme Court, by majority decision, on Tuesday issued its opinion affirming the Board of Land and Natural Resources’ decision to issue a Conservation District Use Permit for construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea.

Henry Yang, Chair, 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 Hawaii 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 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 Hawaii Islands’ young people. We are excited to move forward in Hawaii 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.”

Work on the telescope on Maunakea was halted in 2015 when the Hawai`i Supreme Court invalidated the Conservation District Use Permit on procedural grounds. That permit had been issued by the Board of Land and Natural Resources to the University of Hawaii Hilo to build TMT on Maunakea. The Supreme Court returned the case to the Hawai`i Circuit Court and instructed that a new contested case hearing be conducted. The contested case got underway in October 2016.

In the majority opinion the Court noted: “In this opinion, we address whether the BLNR properly applied the law in analyzing whether a permit should be issued for the TMT.  Upon careful consideration of the written submissions, the applicable law, and the oral arguments, and for the reasons explained below, we now affirm the BLNR’s decision authorizing issuance of a Conservation District Use Permit for the Thirty Meter Telescope.”

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.

Reactions:

Governor David Ige:

“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 Governor 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:

“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 (TMT) project,” said University of Hawai‘i President David Lassner. “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.”

DLNR Chair Suzanne Case:

“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,” said DLNR Chair Suzanne Case. “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:

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,” said Attorney General Russell Suzuki.

House of Representative Speaker Scott K. Saiki:

“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,” said House of Representative Speaker Scott K. Saiki. “In this modern day, we can have both. The entire world will benefit from our astronomy program.”

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