HONOLULU — The executive director of the embattled Thirty Meter Telescope said Friday he wants to move forward with the project but is waiting to hear from state agencies about how to proceed after the Hawaii Supreme Court invalidated a key construction permit.
The $1.4 billion project has been in limbo since April, when throngs of protesters opposed to building the telescope atop Mauna Kea— held sacred by many Native Hawaiians — blocked construction crews. Protesters showed up in force again in June during an attempt to resume construction. Last month, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state Board of Land and Natural Resources should not have issued the permit before a hearings officer reviewed a petition by a group challenging the project's approval. The court sent the matter back for a new contested case hearing.
Since then, telescope officials have been largely silent on what they planned to do next. But Ed Stone, the project's executive director, said telescope officials don't have enough information to decide.
"We're waiting now for the instructions from the courts through the Department of Land and Natural Resources ... which they can convey to us what this new process needs to be, what the schedule is and then we can take it into account in deciding what we do next," he said. "So we can't really do anything until we have an idea what it is the state's requiring to see if that's going to be consistent with what we can do."
State officials are not holding up the process, state Attorney General Doug Chin said in a statement. "On Dec. 29, the Supreme Court remanded the case to the circuit court to further remand to the Board of Land and Natural Resources so that a contested case hearing can be conducted," he said. "As of today, the circuit court has not remanded the case. BLNR cannot take action or provide instructions to anyone until this happens."
Stone was on a Chamber of Commerce Hawaii panel Friday to discuss the future of Mauna Kea. Panelists urged telescope supporters to be more vocal.
There's a "tremendous intimidation factor," when protesters invoke the word "sacred," said panelist Peter Apo, who is an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee.
Supporters tend to be silent, while opponents are much more vocal.
"You gotta rise up and get out there and engage," Apo told attendees gathered at downtown Honolulu's Plaza Club.
Attendee Kirstin Kahaloa, executive director of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, agreed, noting that there's a "fear factor" among those who support the project. She described "personal attacks," when she expressed her support publicly.
The fervent protests have been surprising, Stone said after the panel discussion.
"Those voices were not there and then they appeared in October of 2014 and surprised not only us but I think essentially all our supporters," he said, reflecting back to the project's groundbreaking ceremony that was disrupted by protesters.
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