HONOLULU (CN) – A divided Hawaii Supreme Court upheld the validity of a permit to build the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope atop Haleakala on Maui, finding the permit is consistent with conservation guidelines.
Kilakila ‘O Haleakala, an organization “dedicated to the protection of the sacredness of Haleakala,” challenged the Board of Land and Natural Resources permit because of the telescope’s “unprecedented height, mass, and scale, industrial appearance, use of hazardous materials,” and “location in an area that is already 40 percent developed,” as well as procedural irregularities in the permitting process.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Judge Mark E. Recktenwald concluded this past week that state rules “specifically permit the construction of astronomy facilities and do not specify a limit as to size, appearance, or other characteristics.”
Recktenwald continued, “The ATST complies with the broad purposes set out in the statute and agency rules regulating conservation districts: ‘to promote their long-term sustainability and the public health, safety, and welfare.'”
The 10,023-foot summit of Haleakala, traditionally used by Native Hawaiians as a place for religious ceremonies, consists of three volcanic cones. One cone is occupied by Maui County facilities, while a second contains Haleakala National Park’s visitor outlook. Eighteen acres of the third cone, Pu’u Kolekole, were set aside in 1961 as the site of the Haleakala High Altitude Observatory and currently house eight research facilities owned by University of Hawaii.
In his dissenting opinion Justice Richard Pollack strenuously objected to the Board of Land and Natural Resource’s failure to disclose ex parte communications between its hearing officer and then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s chief of staff, as well as the chief of staff of late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye – after whom the telescope has been renamed.
“The consequences of the majority’s decision should not be understated,” Pollack wrote. “It means that during the decisional phase of contested case proceedings, the decision makers can meet in private with interested persons strongly supporting one side or a particular outcome in the case.”
In a statement, Thomas Rimmele, director of the renamed Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, said that he is pleased with the court’s decision.
“Haleakala was originally selected from over 70 sites from around the world. The unsurpassed quality of the sky above the summit, coupled with the cutting-edge technology of the telescope and its scientific instruments means that DKIST will allow astronomers to glean new insights into the sun and to discover how our nearest star works,” Rimmele said. “This information about the sun and its effects on Earth will serve to protect our local and global environment, aviation operations and vital infrastructure, including power grids and communication and weather satellites.”
Rimmele said the observatory should be operational by late 2019.
Neither Kilakila ‘O Haleakala nor the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation responded to requests for comment by press time.
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