Legal fight over TMT continues

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As protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope continue on Mauna Kea, it remains unclear when the $1.4 billion project’s most recent legal challenge will be resolved.

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As protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope continue on Mauna Kea, it remains unclear when the $1.4 billion project’s most recent legal challenge will be resolved.

Six plaintiffs who challenged the project’s conservation district use permit in 3rd Circuit Court filed an appeal to the state Intermediate Court of Appeals on June 3 after Judge Greg Nakamura ruled in favor of the project.

The plaintiffs — Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, Clarence K. Ching, Flores-Case Ohana, Deborah J. Ward, Paul K. Neves and KAHEA — argue the 180-foot-tall observatory fails to meet the criteria for building within conservation districts. They filed their opening brief challenging Nakamura’s ruling and the decision by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources to grant the permit Jan. 14.

BLNR, which recently gave the TMT Observatory Corp. a notice to proceed, filed its answering brief March 25.

A state Judiciary spokesman said the plaintiffs have until Wednesday to provide their response.

After that occurs, a three-judge panel will review the case and decide whether to schedule oral arguments. How long the panel could take to review the case is unclear, the spokesman said.

Kealoha Pisciotta of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou said the plaintiffs, who are representing themselves, don’t plan to request an injunction to stop construction while the case is being considered. She said the plaintiffs’ financial resources are limited, adding that TMT construction shouldn’t occur until the appellate court makes a ruling.

“The real issue is people are outraged because they just won’t stop,” she said.

Police arrested 31 TMT protesters Thursday for attempting to block workers from reaching the construction site at the 13,150-foot elevation. No work occurred Friday or Monday.

Protesters oppose the project because of Mauna Kea’s sacred status and concerns about environmental impacts.

“Mauna Kea bears much significance because it is believed that the points of highest altitude are sacred and open the gateways to heaven,” the TMT’s environmental impact statement said.

The mountain is home to 13 telescopes.

The crews are attempting to clear and level the TMT site on the north side of the mountain. A grubbing and grading permit issued by Hawaii County said 6.9 acres will be graded.

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Building permits have yet to be filed for the large observatory, and construction of the dome and support facilities isn’t expected to begin until next year. The telescope is planned to be operational in 2024.

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

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