Mid-morning the awaited news found me… The Hawaii State Supreme Court has upheld the conservation district use permit for the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea.
We had been waiting for this decision for some time. Based on the usual length of time the court takes to decide a case the decision should have appeared well over a month ago.
To no one’s surprise, the court took a little longer with this particular case. A case fraught with many questions that are hotly debated in this state.
The news quickly fueled a firestorm of mainstream media articles across the country and social media postings. The pro-telescope communities I participate in were celebrating. Opponents were decrying the decision with responses that range from disbelief to inflammatory.
Mid-afternoon found me atop the Keck 2 dome to check on some instrumentation. From there I had a perfect vantage point to look down upon the TMT site on the north plateau. I stopped to consider what those few acres of rock below had cost so far in terms of time and passion.
How many have taken sides in this argument, joined protests, spent untold hours researching and writing testimony? Supporters have invested their time in attending so many hearings, manning farmer’s market booths, and writing countless letter’s-to-the-editor.
Opponents and supporters suspended their lives for months to participate in the contested case hearings, sitting for day upon day in the hearings. How many millions have been spent on lawyer’s fees, airline tickets, and hotel rooms to support the legal proceedings?
Personally I was unable to attend the contested case hearings, like many I followed the live feed, keeping tabs through the day when I could. I did attend the final DLNR board meeting in Hilo where the board heard testimony prior to issuing the use permit that was eventually upheld in today’s court decision.
I have now had a chance to read a little more of the 73 page supreme court decision that ends the legal process. It is an extraordinarily thorough refutation of each of the arguments we heard repeated over and over through the six and a half month contested case proceedings.
I need to read more as I get a chance, there is much to learn here, there are blog posts to write. It is interesting to compare the decision against what I heard in those many hours of testimony, particularly where the law stands on traditional rights and land use.
So much of the decision rules on procedural issues. Was the process fair? Was it conducted properly? Opponents sought to derail the process through any means necessary, any delay was a victory. What the court saw is that the hearing officer routinely went beyond the letter of the law to insure that opponents had every opportunity to present their case.
As discussed earlier, however, there was no actual evidence of use of the TMT Observatory site and Access Way area by Native Hawaiian practitioners. Furthermore, in general, astronomy and Native Hawaiian uses on Mauna Kea have co-existed for many years and the TMT Project will not curtail or restrict Native Hawaiian uses. – Hawaii State Supreme Court decision for the TMT CDUP, page 51
One part of the decision is clear, that opponents failed to show that the telescopes prevent their use of the mauna for traditional purposes. That one point is probably the single most pertinent issue to be decided.
This is not over. While telescope opponents have exhausted their legal options to stop the project, there will be protests and struggle on the mauna. I was half expecting to see a few protesters while coming down the mountain today, but there were none. I am sure we will see them on the mauna soon.