State: Amano will preside over TMT hearing

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The state Board of Land and Natural Resources is sticking with Riki May Amano.

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The state Board of Land and Natural Resources is sticking with Riki May Amano.

The retired Hilo Circuit Court judge was selected in April to oversee the next contested case hearing for the Thirty Meter Telescope’s land use permit. But her objectivity was questioned by the attorney representing project opponents because Amano has a family membership at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.

Attorney Richard Wurdeman argued the $85 annual pass created at least the appearance of a conflict of interest since the center is connected to the University of Hawaii at Hilo, the official TMT permit applicant, and its mission of supporting astronomy on Mauna Kea.

But the seven BLNR members decided that wasn’t enough to disqualify her, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources announced late Friday afternoon.

“No reasonable person would infer that the possibility of this ‘benefit’ (‘Imiloa family membership) would override the hearing officer’s duty to make an impartial recommendation to the Board,” the board was quoted as saying in a press release.

DLNR said a 16-page decision was issued by the board.

Amano said her family membership expires May 24 and will not be renewed. She said she has not been involved in management or oversight of the center, which says its mission is to “honor Maunakea by sharing Hawaiian culture and science to inspire exploration.”

The pass provides unlimited general admission to two adults and five children, in addition to discounts.

The board said it accepted her explanation that she did not know the center was connected to UH-Hilo.

Additionally, the board said it concluded its closed-door decision to delegate selection authority for the hearings officer to Chairwoman Suzanne Case did not violate the state’s sunshine law since it was exercising adjudicatory functions.

Wurdeman questioned that process and the public notice issued for solicitation of applicants. He also said the contested case petitioners should have been notified the board was going to consider delegating the selection authority.

The board said it disagreed with those complaints.

Wurdeman could not be immediately reached for comment.

He represents petitioners 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.

A hearings officer previously ruled in favor of granting the land use permit for construction of the 180-foot-tall observatory on Mauna Kea. The $1.4 billion project is strongly opposed by some Native Hawaiians who consider the mountain sacred.

The contested case, a quasi-judicial hearing, is being redone after the state Supreme Court overturned the permit last December.

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It ruled the Land Board wrongfully voted for the permit before the hearing was held, thereby denying the petitioners due process.

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

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