TMT case: Hearings officer dispute continues

  • 3428421_web1_Amano201641165739688.jpg

Thirty Meter Telescope opponents say retired Hilo Circuit Judge Riki May Amano still should be disqualified as the next TMT contested case hearings officer after officially declaring her ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center membership.


Thirty Meter Telescope opponents say retired Hilo Circuit Judge Riki May Amano still should be disqualified as the next TMT contested case hearings officer after officially declaring her ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center membership.

Amano submitted a second supplementary declaration form listing the $85 family membership April 19 after an attorney representing contested case petitioners alleged that it at least created the appearance of a conflict of interest.

‘Imiloa is a part of the University of Hawaii at Hilo, the official applicant for TMT’s conservation district use permit, and is located above the main campus in the university’s science and technology park.

In the declaration, Amano said she wasn’t aware the organization, which says its mission is to “honor Maunakea by sharing Hawaiian culture and science to inspire exploration,” is connected to the university.

The 180-foot-tall observatory, opposed by some Native Hawaiians who consider the mountain sacred, is planned to be built below the summit on Mauna Kea’s north flank. The mountain is home to 13 other telescopes.

While noting that petitioners “correctly raised the issue,” Amano said in the declaration she has not been involved in management or oversight of the organization.

“On balance, I do not believe any reasonable person would consider my passive family membership of ‘Imiloa likely to affect my impartiality as a hearings officer in this case,” she added.

Family membership provides unlimited general admission for two adults and five children, store discounts and special access and invitations, according to ‘Imiloa’s website. Amano said her membership will expire May 24 and will not be renewed.

In addition to concerns about the selection process, attorney Richard Wurdeman said in a supplemental objection filed Monday with the state Board of Land and Natural Resources that the conflict still exists.

He said the membership reflects her “personal (and financial) support of the astronomy mission of the party-litigant University of Hawaii at Hilo, which includes development of the TMT Observatory project …” and that she should have known or made inquiries about the organization’s connection to the university.

“A conflict of interest exists and, at a minimum, an appearance of a conflict or an appearance of impropriety exists, which, similarly, also requires disqualification of the Hearing Officer from presiding over the contested case process,” Wurdeman wrote.

Wurdeman also is challenging the Land Board’s decision to delegate selection of the hearing’s officer to Chairwoman Suzanne Case and for starting the process without the board voting to have another contested case hearing.

The quasi-judicial hearing is being redone after the state Supreme Court ruled in December that the board wrongfully voted in favor of the land use permit before the hearing was held. That decision followed multiple protests on the mountain that stalled construction as of late March 2015.

Additionally, Wurdeman notes in his Monday filing that the petitioners have not been provided a hearing to address the issues they initially raised April 15.

In response to questions from the newspaper about the process for handling the complaint, a state Department of Land and Natural Resources spokeswoman referred to a “FAQ” page on the agency’s website, which doesn’t directly address the matter.

Attorneys representing the university dismissed Wurdeman’s objections in an April 21 letter to the board but suggested the parties be able to make their objections directly to the panel.

Contested case petitioners are Mauna Kea Anaina Hou and Kealoha Pisciotta, Clarence Kukauakahi Ching, Flores-Case Ohana, Deborah J. Ward, Paul K. Neves, and KAHEA: The Hawaiian Environmental Alliance.


Attorneys for the TMT International Observatory also filed a motion to participate in the contested case hearing.

Email Tom Callis at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email