TMT Contested Case Decision

I have to admit I was worried that the decision could go against the TMT project.

It did not.

Retired Judge Riki May Amano
Retired Judge Riki May Amano presides over the TMT contested case hearing
Earlier today hearing officer Judge Ricky May Amano recommended that the TMT project be granted a Conservation District Use Permit or CDUP.

The decision is nearly three hundred pages long, none of us has had a chance to do more than skim some of the more interesting sections. Indeed most of us opened the document and skipped straight to page 260 to read the Recommended Decision and Order first.

TMT Rendering
An overhead view of the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope, credit TMT Observatory Corporation
What I have read appears to be a straightforward reading of the law involving land use. Yes, it is a conservation district, that means that there shall be sufficient management of the project, but does not mean that the project cannot proceed.

We have yet to see the outrage from TMT project opponents. I expect it will be shortly forthcoming and quite vehement.

Where do we go from here? As I understand it the next step is for the DLNR board to vote on the acceptance of the hearing officer’s recommendation and reissue the permit. Of course the next thing to happen after that is the inevitable court challenge. This will go straight to the state supreme court as recent legislation set that as the path for land use cases, skipping the lower courts.

Distanced from Reality

On Monday I tuned back into the TMT contested case hearing, it is a soap opera that has become rather addictive over the last few months. I will often keep the video feed up in the corner of my monitor, attempting to pick up the more interesting bits through the day.

Michael Lee
Michael Lee testifies at the TMT contested case hearing Jan 24, 2017
Mr. Lee claims to be a papakilohoku, a star priest, I tuned into his testimony with some interest. As an amateur astronomer who has spent countless nights under the stars observing with hand made telescopes, or simply my unaided eyes, I am very familiar with the sky. I hoped he would relate some interesting Hawaiian sky lore while on the stand, a new legend or two. What I heard instead was a mangled version of astronomy that would embarrass any ancient Polynesian navigator.

Mr. Michael Lee was offered as a witness by Harry Fergerstrom, one of the more extreme participants in the ongoing contested case hearing. It is no surprise that this witness would espouse some of the more interesting claims made against the TMT project. I expected some wild claims, I was surprised at just how wild.

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Professional versus Layman

With a few notable exceptions the petitioners in the ongoing TMT contested case hearing are lay people with no background in astronomy or the natural sciences around which much of the testimony concerns. Sometimes this disparity results in innocent misunderstandings, something to be expected. Unfortunately in this case these misunderstandings are all too often used to justify ugly insinuations or even accusations of misconduct by telescope opponents.

The Thirty Meter Telescope
An artist concept of TMT at night, with the laser guide star system illuminated.
It is usually the terminology that starts these misunderstandings… During cross examination of master navigator Chad Babayan petitioner Mehana Kihoi asked, “Do you have a degree in astrology, Mr. Babayan?” You could see a moment of confusion on Mr. Babayan’s face “Astro?” Not deterred she asks again, “A degree in astrology?” There is only one response to this… “No, I don’t.” Mr. Babayan answers. This is not the only time that the pseudoscience of astrology has been confused with astronomy in these proceedings. The vast difference between the two completely escaping the notice of so many laypersons.

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The TMT Contested Case Proceeds

We have been through weeks of the TMT permit contested case hearings at this point, with no end in sight. I have often kept the live feed in the corner of my computer screen through the day.

The Thirty Meter Telescope
An artist concept of TMT at night, with the laser guide star system illuminated.
Many of the petitioner’s efforts are well prepared and professional, particularly those from Mauna Kea Anaina Hou. Other are less so, to be expected when the participants are not experienced in legal proceedings.

Other petitioners seem unable or unwilling to understand repeated instructions from the hearing officer. At least most of the grandstanding has settled down as it became apparent that it would not be tolerated in the hearing room and that Judge Amano would evict those who repeatedly disrupted proceedings.

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Monitoring the TMT Contested Case

I have not had a chance to attend any of the contested case meetings, they are taking place in Hilo on workdays. Following along by reading all of the court documents is almost as good, maybe better. Big Island Video news has also posted quite a few videos of the proceedings where you can watch and get a feel for the tone and process of the hearings.

TMT Rendering
An overhead view of the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope, credit TMT Observatory Corporation
All of the filings are available online, posted to the DLNR website. There are now over two hundred filings, with at least a few added almost every day. They detail the legal maneuverings of all of the parties as they make claims and counterclaims over every issue in the case.

It is clear that the telescope opponents have a couple basic strategies, neither of which address the issues. First is simply to delay and obstruct. Every decision is appealed and contested, from who is party to the case, to the selection of the hearing officer herself. Attempts to limit the discussion to the issue at hand have been vigorously contested by those who have other agendas.

One observation is that witness lists of telescope opponents are extensive, 39 persons on the Mauna Kea Anaina Hou (Doc-103 and Doc-104) list alone. To be fair, many of the the opponents do only have a few witnesses to call, but the sheer number of participants makes the resulting numbers a bit excessive. Reading through the various lists I fail to see where each witness will bring unique testimony to the case. In contrast the University and other supporters have very brief witness lists with only a handful of witnesses requested. Certain names do stand out… Dr. Sai, a well known sovereignty proponent. UH Chancellor David Lassner is present. Even Governor Ige has been listed, a request that is already subject to extensive legal wrangling.

A common theme in both the hearing room behavior and in the document opponents claim that they have been subject to personal attacks or harassment. Claims are made that they are “under duress” despite the fact that participation in this proceeding is entirely voluntary. Judge Amano has gone out of her way to explain methods by which opponents could participate in the hearings without being full parties in the process and subject to the associated paperwork and attendance burdens.

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