Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Sunday May 8, 2016

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is giving us an ominous sense of Yogi Berra’s “deja vu all over again” as it stumbles through a second attempt at contested case hearings for the much-disputed Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea.

The state Supreme Court voided TMT’s initial permit after finding the state “put the cart before the horse” by issuing the permit before settling the contested case filing by Native Hawaiians and other telescope foes.

So what did the Board of Land and Natural Resources do after being ordered by the court to redo the contested case process?

It appeared to put the cart before the horse again by starting the search for a hearings officer without providing public notice and input opportunity that TMT opponents say is required by the state Sunshine Law.

The hearings officer selected, former Hawai`i island Judge Riki May Amano, has a seemingly obvious conflict of interest as a dues-paying member since 2008 of the `Imiloa Astronomy Center at the University of Hawai`i-Hilo.

UH-Hilo is the formal applicant for the permit to allow TMT to build its $1.4 billion telescope on state land the university controls, and TMT is a sponsor of the `Imiloa center.

On Friday, BLNR rejected objections to Amano’s conflict by the Mauna Kea Hui, which represents telescope opponents, and unanimously reaffirmed her appointment.

Yes, opponents will object to everything to try to delay the case after TMT said it will pursue a site out of Hawai`i unless it has a permit to build on Mauna Kea by the end of the year.

But the reality facing BLNR is the Supreme Court made clear it’ll be a stickler for details; instead of making it easy for opponents, BLNR should be scrupulous and transparent in following the letter and spirit of the law.

Amano didn’t initially disclose her `Imiloa membership, claiming she was unaware of the astronomy center’s affiliation with UH-Hilo.

That’s hard to swallow.

`Imiloa, which Amano estimated she visited some 30 times over the years, is located on the UH-Hilo campus and is fronted by a rock wall with foot-high lettering that says:

`Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai`i

University of Hawai`i at Hilo

Nevertheless, BLNR accepted her explanation for not disclosing her membership and ruled, “A reasonable person knowing all the facts would not doubt the impartiality of Judge Amano.”

More likely, a reasonable person would expect BLNR to avoid choosing a hearings officer who belongs to an organization that’s dedicated to promoting astronomy on the Big Island and tied to a litigant in the case.

Now that Amano’s conflict is known, what sense does it make to risk another court smackdown — and a potentially longer delay in the case — when there are other qualified hearing officers who could preside without question of bias?