Saturday, April 16, 2016


Opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope filed a formal document with the state Friday that not only takes issue with the way a hearings officer was selected to handle a contested case over the telescope, but objects to a potential bias the appointee might have.

The Mauna Kea Hui filed a 15-page complaint that calls for retired Hawaii island Circuit Judge Riki May Amano to be disqualified from serving over the case.

The filing by Richard Naiwieha Wurdeman, attorney for the Mauna Kea Hui plaintiffs, points out that Amano has a history of being a dues-paying member of the Imiloa Astronomy Center, which is part of the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

UH-Hilo is the applicant on behalf of the TMT International Observatory Board for the $1.4 billion project planned for the summit of Mauna Kea.

But even if Amano doesn’t exhibit a personal bias in the case, the appearance of partiality is worthy of disqualification, the filing said.

Joshua Wisch, deputy to state Attorney General Douglas Chin, declined to comment on the objections late Friday, saying the document hadn’t been reviewed yet.

Chin previously said the Department of Land and Natural Resources followed the correct process in making its selection.

The Hawaii Supreme Court nullified the TMT’s construction permit in December, ruling that the Board of Land and Natural Resources violated the state Constitution when it formally granted the permit before holding a contested case hearing in 2011.

The court ordered a new contested case hearing.

Two weeks ago the DLNR announced the hiring of Amano as the hearings officer following a search over at least three months. Friday was the deadline for the parties to submit objections.

The Mauna Kea Hui document, filed late Friday, contends the BLNR violated the state Sunshine Law on Feb. 26 when it delegated responsibility for hiring the hearings officer to DLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case during a meeting without giving notice that it was a public hearing. The petitioners weren’t even notified, it said.

State law requires the BLNR to first decide in a public hearing whether to conduct a contested case hearing itself, according to the complaint, and if it decides not to hold the hearing, only then can it delegate authority to the chairperson.

What’s more, the state launched its search for a hearings officer in January — ahead of any board consideration — and therefore the search should be invalid, the opponents’ complaint says.

The filing asks that the hiring process be restarted.

As for the objections to Amano, the document notes that the retired judge and her husband, Donald Amano, have been members of Imiloa since 2012, paying annual family dues of $85 a year.

TMT is also a corporate sponsor of Imiloa, which has been a strong supporter of TMT and the university’s astronomy activities atop Mauna Kea.

In February the TMT International Observatory Board announced it would be searching for an alternative site in case it is unable to build on the Big Island in the next couple of years.

TMT officials said they would need a permit by the end of this year or the beginning of next year or it would pursue a “Plan B” to take the project to another mountain.

Before becoming a Hawaii island Circuit Court judge, Amano was a deputy attorney general assigned to the departments of Land and Natural Resources, Transportation, and Labor and Industrial Relations. She was in private practice from 1981 to 1991.