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Court gives TMT foes more time to request reconsideration of ruling on permit

  • An artist rendering of the Thirty Meter Telescope against a backdrop of the other Maunakea telescopes.

The state Supreme Court agreed to give Thirty Meter Telescope opponents more time to consider asking for reconsideration of its recent ruling.

The opponents, a mix of Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners and environmentalists, asked for an extension because the dissenting opinion wasn’t published along with the majority ruling and a concurring opinion. The dissenting opinion also was published Friday.

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Opponents will have 10 days from Friday to make a request for reconsideration.

The court voted 4-1 on Oct. 30 to uphold the state Board of Land and Natural Resources’ decision to approve a Conservation District Use Permit for the $1.4 billion project, slated to be built on Maunakea.

The 180-foot-tall next-generation observatory will be one of the world’s most advanced, if not the most advanced, by the time it is complete, and is expected to keep Hawaii at the forefront of astronomy. However, it has faced opposition because of concerns about impacts to Hawaiian cultural practices on the mountain, which some consider sacred, and the environment.

The majority ruling acknowledged telescope construction on the mountain has had a significant cumulative impact on natural and cultural resources, but also noted mitigation efforts, including commitments by the University of Hawaii to remove five telescopes and a road at the summit, that are part of the TMT permit. They also said TMT won’t interfere with cultural practices at the summit or Lake Waiau.

In his dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Michael Wilson said BLNR erred by approving the project before impacts on the mountain are reduced below the “tipping point.” He said conditions to remove other observatories are “little more than aspirational goals.”

“In other words, BLNR concludes that the degradation to the summit area has been so substantially adverse that the addition of TMT would have no substantial adverse effect,” Wilson wrote. “Thus, while conceding that Mauna Kea receives constitutional and statutory protection commensurate with its unchallenged position as the citadel of Hawaiian cultural pantheon, the BLNR applies what can be described as a degradation principle to cast off cultural or environmental protection by establishing that prior degradation of the resource — to a level of damage causing a substantial adverse impact — extinguishes the legal protection afforded to natural resources in the conservation district.”

TMT International Observatory has not yet announced when construction would resume on the mountain.

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UH, which holds the master lease for the Maunakea Science Reserve, has said the TMT site would be the last new telescope site to be developed.

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