Navigator, astronomer testify at TMT hearing

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The Thirty Meter Telescope contested case hearing continued Wednesday at the Grand Naniloa Hotel Crown Room in Hilo with navigator Chad Kalepa Baybayan and astronomer Robert McLaren appearing as witnesses for the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

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The Thirty Meter Telescope contested case hearing continued Wednesday at the Grand Naniloa Hotel Crown Room in Hilo with navigator Chad Kalepa Baybayan and astronomer Robert McLaren appearing as witnesses for the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

It was the seventh day of hearings, which began Oct. 20 after several pre-conference hearings. Retired judge Riki May Amano is the hearings officer.

Baybayan was just the third witness for the university who has been called since hearings started.

One witness, James Hayes, was on the stand for three days and will be called back for further cross-examination next week. There are about 85 witnesses in total, according to TMT spokesman Scott Ishikawa.

There are about two dozen parties to the contested case, all of whom are allowed to call their own witnesses and cross-examine.

In light of the slow proceedings, Amano instituted a time limit on cross-examinations after Monday’s hearing, but on Wednesday, some parties still went past the half-hour limit. Some objected to the 30-minute rule because a motion for reconsideration wasn’t filed.

Amano also added 14 more dates to the hearing calendar, for a total of 18.

The dates extend into late December, and Amano said after witness testimony concluded that it was likely there would need to be more dates in January.

“We’ll get a better sense of the timing as we move forward,” she said.

The cross-examination time limit seemed to have an effect, as Wednesday was the first time a full cross-examination — Baybayan’s — concluded in less than a day.

Baybayan is a captain in the Polynesian Voyaging Society and was awarded the rank of pwo, a degree in the Weriyeng School of Navigation of Micronesia, by his teacher Mau Piailug, the master navigator who guided the first voyage of Hokulea.

He previously was the navigator-in-residence and an assistant director for ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, which is part of the university, and said his opinion presented during testimony “is my own and does not represent any of my organizations.”

During cross-examination, he said he thinks TMT and Hawaiian cultural practices could co-exist.

“I’m a modern Hawaiian. I believe in my traditions, I believe in my culture, but I think that’s consistent with our progression … to be highly reflective and highly motivated to learn about the world we live in, and so we ally ourselves with the tradition of curiosity and exploration,” he said.

Other parties questioned Baybayan about his own cultural practices and what Mauna Kea meant to him as a navigator. One party, Chase Kahookahi Kanuha, asked how many Hawaiian astronomers were working on Mauna Kea. Baybayan named one astronomer.

Kanuha then asked how Hawaiians would benefit from the TMT if “less than 0.0001 percent had direct participation in the telescopes.”

“What legitimate participation have Hawaiians had in this field of science through telescopes on Mauna Kea other than the giving of their sacred mauna for desecration in the name of astronomy and giant telescopes?” he asked.

Baybayan said people did not need to be directly observing at the telescope sites in order to participate, and that technicians and those who use astronomy data once it is collected also could benefit from the project.

McLaren, the associate director for the University of Hawaii at Manoa Institute for Astronomy, was cross-examined by just one party, Deborah Ward, before the end of the day. He was asked primarily about costs of telescope decommissioning and liability.

The contested case is a quasi-judicial hearing and is the second TMT-related contested case in the past six years. The first case began in 2011. The state Board of Land and Natural Resources issued a permit to UH to build the $1.4 billion telescope before that case concluded.

In December 2015, the state Supreme Court said that permit was not valid because its issuance violated due process of those in the contested case. Pre-hearing conferences for the new case began in June.

All hearings take place from 9 a.m-4:30 p.m. at the Naniloa Crown Room.

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Hearings are scheduled for Nov. 15-16, 18, 21-23 and 28 and Dec. 1-2, 5-6, 8-9, 12-13, 16 and 19-20.

Email Ivy Ashe at iashe@hawaiitribune-herald.com.