The state Board of Land and Natural Resources on Friday approved granting the $1.3 billion Thirty Meter Telescope project a sublease for land on Mauna Kea.
In concept anyway.
While the board voted in favor of the agreement, it won’t go into effect until several contested case hearing requests are resolved. That process could take from a month to as much as a year to complete, board Chairman William Aila said at the meeting in Honolulu.
TMT spokeswoman Sandra Dawson said she isn’t expecting a lengthy delay.
“I am very hopeful we will move forward at this point,” she said.
Construction of the large telescope won’t occur unless the sublease is officially granted, Dawson said.
The situation isn’t unfamiliar for the project’s proponents.
A contested case hearing was held following the board’s approval of a conservation district use permit in 2011.
A hearings officer upheld the permit, a decision the board accepted in April 2013.
Critics of the project, who note the cultural importance of the mountain to Native Hawaiians, say it’s wise for the state not to rush, particularly since the mountain is already home to several other telescopes.
Kealoha Pisciotta, one of the contested case hearing petitioners, said there are still important issues that need to be resolved.
“These (hearings) don’t stop projects,” she said. “It’s a method of informing decision makers what the impact will be.”
In particular, Pisciotta said the petitioners want to raise issues regarding whether the rent amount is sufficient and whether TMT proponents properly consulted with Native Hawaiians.
She estimated five people made contested case hearing requests as well as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
“This one is important. It’s the next really huge project that’s not on the summit,” Pisciotta said, noting that its location puts it on or near an area where Native Hawaiians placed offerings.
The project’s rent would reach about $1.08 million after 11 years.
Dawson said that amount is higher than other observatories pay around the world.
But Pisciotta said that may still fall short given the mountain’s sacred status.
“The TMT cost is based on an assessment that the land is worth nothing,” she said.
“For Native Hawaiians, the land is priceless.”
In May, the petitioners lost an appeal in 3rd Circuit Court regarding the approval of the conservation use permit.
Pisciotta said that appeal is being taken to the state Intermediate Court of Appeals.
Dawson said that action will not impact construction if the sublease is granted.
The telescope would be one of, if not the most advanced in the world. It has been slated for completion in 2021.
The University of Hawaii holds the master lease for the Mauna Kea Science Reserve, where the mountain’s observatories are located.
The sublease would be the 11th granted for observatories on the mountain, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune- herald.com.