Hawaii Supreme Court Pulls Construction Permit for Thirty Meter Telescope

Dec 2, 2015

Credit Thirty Meter Telescope Corp.

The state’s highest court has revoked a permit for construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea. The Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruled that due process was violated when it approved the permit for the telescope before holding a contested case hearing. TMT may now have to go through the process again if they still want to construct the $1.4 billion telescope. 

Credit Molly Solomon

State Supreme Court Justices ruled the state violated its own constitution. Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald writes “by voting on the permit before the contested case hearing was held, the Board denied the Appellants their due process right to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.” Recktanwald went on to say “quite simply, the Board put the cart before the horse.”

“It is a powerful thing that the court has recognized that process and protection of the cultural and natural resources is important here in Hawai‘i,” said Kealoha Pisciotta, a longtime telescope opponent from the group Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.  

“We thought we were right. We fought as if we were right. And the court agreed with us,” said Clarence Kū Ching, another plaintiff in the case. He agrees with the core argument from the court’s ruling: that the permit should never have been issued before hearing the contested case. “Due process requires evidence and then a decision,” said Ching. “Not the other way around.”

Ching called the decision a huge victory, but said the battle over Mauna Kea is far from over. “If TMT still wants to go for the observatory, they just are going to have to start over and do it right this time.”

Telescope opponents hold hands in prayer before oral arguments on August 27 for the Supreme Court case challenging the Thirty Meter Telescope.
Credit Molly Solomon

It’s up to the Thirty Meter Telescope to decide whether or not to move forward. “We thank the Hawaii Supreme Court for the timely ruling and we respect their decision,” said TMT International Observatory Board of Directors Henry Yang in a statement. “TMT will follow the process set forth by the state, as we always have. We are assessing our next steps on the way forward and appreciate and thank the people of Hawaii and our supporters from these last eight-plus years.”

“Today's decision provides direction to a new Land Board and another opportunity for people to discuss Mauna Kea's future,” said state Attorney General Doug Chin. “The Attorney General's office will be advising the Land Board regarding next steps.”

According to the Supreme Court, those next steps will proceed “so that a contested case hearing can be conducted before the Board or a new hearing officer, or for other proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

You can read the court's full ruling here:

Hawaii Supreme Court Opinion: Mauna Kea Anaina Hou vs. Board of Land and Natural Resources