TMT files response to opponents’ TRO petition

  • KEALOHA PISCIOTTA
  • DOUG ING
  • An artist's rendering of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

TMT International Observatory on Monday filed a response to an application by opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope for a temporary restraining order to halt construction of the project.

The TRO request came as part of a lawsuit by Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, Kealoha Pisciotta, Paul Neves, Clarence Ku Ching, Kaliko Kanaele, Cindy Freitas, William Freitas and Lanny Sinkin filed earlier this month in Hilo Circuit Court.

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A hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. July 23 before Judge Greg Nakamura.

The lawsuit alleges a state plan approved for Maunakea in 1977 requires a bond with the Board of Land and Natural Resources to provide “adequate security equal to the amount of the contract to construct the telescope facilities” and that construction can’t legally go forward.

The Hawaii Supreme Court on Oct. 30, 2018, affirmed on a 4-1 vote BLNR approval of the project’s Conservation District Use Permit and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ notice to proceed on the project was issued last month to the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

The estimated price tag for TMT is $1.4 billion.

“The petitioners’ lawsuit is just another tactic to unduly delay the TMT project,” said Doug Ing, attorney for TIO. “The petitioners were all parties involved in the contested case hearing, and BLNR considered and rejected the very same claim now raised again by the petitioners. They failed to meet their burden and their lawsuit has no merit.”

In addition to TIO, respondents in the lawsuit include Gov. David Ige, state Attorney General Clare Connors, BLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case, BLNR members Stanley Roehrig, Thomas Oi, Samuel “Ohu” Gon III and Christopher Yuen, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim, and University of Hawaii President David Lassner.

The issue of security bonds isn’t mentioned in the most recent Maunakea Comprehensive Management Plan, adopted in 2009.

A petitioner in a 2017 contested case hearing on TMT raised the bond issue, but the BLNR argued the 1977 plan was just a 17-page “policy guide” and the 2009 plan is more comprehensive and supersedes the 1977 document.

The TIO memorandum of opposition also states the October high court decision bars the petitioners from re-litigating claims and issues raised and decided in the contested case hearing. It also claims alleged environmental and cultural harms were addressed in detail by BLNR in the contested case hearing.

Pisciotta was at the protest on the Maunakea Access Road on Tuesday. She said she asked the court to move the TRO hearing sooner because of what is going on, but was told the court schedule would not allow it.

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“Just so you know, this (lawsuit) is because they, No. 1, don’t have the funding for the project, and No. 2, they have not followed the rules of BLNR that require the full bond of $1.4 billion to $2 billion,” Pisciotta said. “That’s not a good sign, because they could just leave, and the people of Hawaii would have to carry the burden of that. That’s what this case is about. It’s not just about stopping the development. It’s about, if they’re gonna actually really do it, then you’ve got to follow rules to do it. And they haven’t.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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