This time a year ago activists were busy bringing attention to their opposition to the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope to be built atop the most sacred of all places in Hawaii, Mauna Kea. In April 2015, 31 people were arrested for blocking road access to building crews. In June new “emergency rules” were imposed to limit protesters’ access to the mountain and more arrests were made. It looked for a time like the TMT project might win.
Then, in July a freak snowstorm (along with other dramatic unseasonable weather) blanketed the mountain just days after gatherings took place across the Polynesian Triangle to pray for the mountain’s protection. It was seen by many as a confirmation that their prayers were heard. Since then we haven’t heard much from the “We Are Mauna Kea” movement (organized as Ku Kia’i Mauna, meaning guardians of the mountain), but challenges to the project continue to mount.
“The movement is resting right now and people aren’t going up there so much,” activist and singer/songwriter H?wane Rios told ICTMN. “The mountain needed it to rest. Sacred places like Mauna Kea were never supposed to have a lot of people on them all the time, so it’s good that things have calmed down.”
The months of public protests produced what are, so far, positive results for Native Hawaiians who see the TMT (known to the protesters as “Too Many Telescopes”) as further desecration of their ancestral place of origin. Since last year the TMT project has been tied up in a complex web of court actions related to the legality of the new rules against the protests, and the permitting process.
“The legality of the emergency rules was challenged in circuit court and the judge invalidated them,” said E. Kalani Flores, Kanaka Maoli cultural practitioner and professor of Hawaiian studies at Hawaii Community College. “Most of the individuals arrested by the State law enforcement officers for protecting Mauna Kea got their cases dismissed.”
In December 2015 the Hawaii Supreme Court vacated the construction permit on violations of due process in what was called the “contested case.” According to Flores, “The matter was remanded back to the BLNR (Board of Land and Natural Resources) for them to hold a new contested case hearing on this permit. A new hearing officer was recently selected but not without controversy, as there were claims of potential conflicts of interest associated with this individual.”
The hearing officer, a retired judge named Riki May Amano, was criticized for having a potential conflict of interest because of her membership in the ?Imiloa Astronomy Center, which is affiliated with the University of Hawaii, the builder of the TMT.
Flores told ICTMN that the permitting process started all over again, further delaying construction of the TMT on Mauna Kea. In addition, TMT’s sublease for this project was also remanded back to the BLNR in another court decision. TMT’s permit and sublease are plagued with violations of Hawaii State constitutional and statutory provisions. He went on to explain:
“From the start of the TMT project, private and public funds have been paying the exorbitant salaries and benefits of several individuals associated with TMT in the range of $200,000 to $275,000 annually. Also, millions of dollars in contracts have been awarded to an exclusive group of private businesses. Only a select few companies specialize in this type of observatory design, construction, and technology. As a result, most of the requests for proposals are written and awarded to specific predetermined companies. Under the guise of scientific research, astronomy activities have developed into a very lucrative business for specific companies in the private sector and highly paid employment for a limited group of individuals not from Hawaii.”
Flores believes that hearings, litigation, and public opposition will entangle this project for several months, if not years. In the meantime, Native Hawaiians and supporters from around the world have asked the people and governments of Canada, China, India and Japan to withdraw any further funding and support of this proposed project that would cause further adverse impacts upon Native Hawaiians, their cultural practices, and ancestral lands. Mauna Kea protectors have stressed that these impacts can’t continue to be inflicted upon their sacred lands and Hawaiian culture. “Enough is enough,” he said.
Ku Kia’i has filed a motion to intervene in the permit process with a court date set for June 17th, provided the $100 filing fee is met. And on June 9 a lawsuit was filed against the BLNR by Princess Abigail Kawananakoa, the heir apparent to the Hawaiian monarchical throne, challenging Judge Amano’s appointment to the contested case.