By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Opponents of the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope to be built atop Mauna Kea filed a last-minute notice of appeal Monday afternoon with Hawaii’s Third Circuit Court.
Kealoha Pisciotta, the spokeswoman for a group of six petitioners who have contested the plans for what has been touted to be the world’s largest optical telescope, said Monday evening that the hui needed the full 30-day period available to them to decide whether to proceed with an appeal.
Last month, their efforts to stop the construction project took a major blow when the state Board of Land and Natural Resources approved a land use permit for the project, following a lengthy contested case hearing.
“Today is the deadline for us to file the notice of appeal,” she said. “We had to really use all of our time to really make sure everything was OK. There’s a lot of different people involved, and because there’s various groups, each group has its own internal process of decision making.”
She added that the time it took to file the notice was in no way indicative of the members’ dedication to their cause, which they say is the protection of the cultural and natural resources of a sacred mountain.
“We have no questions about everybody’s commitment,” Pisciotta said. “It’s a matter of resources. Court is a difficult thing, and it’s not the place we want to go, but if we have to, we will.”
Pisciotta said that she and the rest of the petitioners believe that the Board of Land and Natural Resources decision last month to approve a land use permit for the TMT violates the rules for conservation districts.
“I think the main questions here before this court will be whether the BLNR rules permit more development, particularly development that has an adverse and significant impact on the land and water resources of Mauna Kea,” she said.
“The university has admitted that the TMT will have adverse, significant and substantial impact on the natural and cultural resources. The rules are clear in that regard. A project may not have that impact. They should have been denied the permit. That’s why we need to seek justice in the court.”
While the hui members represented themselves throughout the quasi-judicial process of the contested case hearing, they have retained the services of Honolulu attorney Richard Naiwieha Wurdeman to see them through the appeal process. Wurdeman did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment before press time Monday.
Among the appellants in the case is the nonprofit organization Kahea: The Hawaiian Environmental Alliance, Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, Clarence Kukauakahi Ching, the Flores-Case Ohana, Deborah J. Ward, and Paul K. Neves.
Named as the appellees are the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, William J. Aila Jr., the chairman of the Board of Land and Natural Resources and director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
TMT Manager of Hawaii Community Affairs Sandra Dawson said last month that the telescope could be about a year from breaking ground, barring any further hold-ups. She did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Monday evening.
In an interview last month, she said that she didn’t see any grounds for an appeal that opponents might use to slow or halt the project.
“We went through a contested case hearing, we received a favorable hearing officer’s report, there was a favorable vote, and there hasn’t been any new information or charges, so I don’t see any new issues coming up that would merit reviewing,” she said. “We’ve been through this now, and I think all the questions have been answered.”
Email Colin M. Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.