Telescope contested case hearing officer wants fresh start

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HONOLULU — The retired Big Island judge overseeing a contested case hearing for the Thirty Meter Telescope project said Monday she wants a fresh look at the issue.

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HONOLULU — The retired Big Island judge overseeing a contested case hearing for the Thirty Meter Telescope project said Monday she wants a fresh look at the issue.

Riki May Amano met with attorneys in the case for the first time since she was selected as hearing officer.

“I want to start out as fresh a slate as I’m supposed to,” she said, while discussing with the lawyers which material she should have in her file ahead of the hearing for the project’s construction permit. She rejected the suggestion by Tim Lui-Kwan, an attorney representing permit applicant University of Hawaii, that she should include the entire record from the previous contested case hearing.

The state Supreme Court in December ruled the state Land Board should not have issued a permit to construct the telescope on land designated for conservation before it had a hearing to evaluate a petition by a group challenging the project’s approval. The ruling sent the matter back for a new hearing.

Amano decided she’ll include the permit application, a staff report, the Land Board chairperson’s report and recommendation and testimony up until February 2011. She’ll give lawyers a chance to ask her to reconsider the decision before obtaining the materials, she said.

She also scheduled a June 17 hearing in Hilo for the requests by those who seek to participate in the hearing.

The nonprofit corporation that wants to build the telescope is asking to participate. According to the motion filed last month, TMT International Observatory said it should be a party because it stands to lose the most if a permit is not issued.

At least five Native Hawaiians also want to participate because of their cultural and traditional rights to Mauna Kea.

Amano allowed the public to attend Monday’s meeting, which she said is normally informal and private. At least 50 people crammed into a small board room at the state Department of Land and Natural Resources in Honolulu. Many of those who attended oppose the $1.4 billion project and think it will desecrate sacred land.

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Many of them also oppose Amano’s selection as hearing officer because they think her family membership to the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, which is operated by UH, represents a conflict of interest. She said she won’t renew the family membership after it expires next week.

She said at the meeting that she was disclosing attending the graduation ceremony of the university’s Hilo campus during the weekend because her niece graduated from the pharmacy school. Her niece’s parents later hosted a party at ‘Imiloa, Amano said.

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