Land Commission Could Delay TMT Construction

2 minutes ago

Opposition to the Thirty-Meter Telescope may be at the forefront of Mauna Kea protests, but some native Hawaiian practitioners are questioning the cumulative effects of development on the mountain.  Is the construction of 13 telescopes on the summit an appropriate use of conservation lands? The state Land Use Commission is hoping to find the answer at its hearing today in Hilo. HPR’s Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi has more.

Hawaiian cultural practitioners Kuʻulei Higashi Kanahele and her husband ʻAhiʻena Kanahele are challenging what they say are “industrial” uses of Mauna Kea’s conservation lands for astronomy-related development. Attorney Bianca Isaki represents the couple.

“The University never asked, BLNR never asked before they did all this construction whether or not they should do a district boundary amendment,” says Isaki, “And so they never had the opportunity to say no.”

A district boundary amendment reclassifies land from one category to another. Categories include conservation, agricultural, rural, and urban.

“Even if one telescope might have been okay, when you successively, cumulatively add all these telescopes then that’s actually another reason you want to get a district boundary amendment.,” says Isaki.

The Kanaheles petitioned the state Land Use Commission in September to determine whether the current use of Mauna Kea lands fits the current land classification.

Opponents of the petition argue these issues were thoroughly vetted by the Board of Land and Natural Resources and later by the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court in the TMT case. UH environmental law professor David Forman says there may have been passing references to these issues.  

“But the fundamental question that the petitioners raise that there should have been a boundary amendment process has not been addressed by the Supreme Court in that case,” says Forman.

Petition opponents include the University of Hawaiʻi, BLNR and TMT – which have all requested the Land Use Commission deny the petition without a hearing. Whatever the Commission decides, Forman expects it will be appealed, sending the matter to the state supreme court.

“That would be a number of years as well and so this could functionally delay efforts to commence construction on the mauna,” says Forman.

The state Land Use Commission is expected to decide the matter after two, and possibly three full days of public testimony. The meeting is set for October 24 & 25 from 9am to 5pm at the Crown Room of the Grand Naniloa Resort. A third day may be added – October 28 – if additional public testimony remains.