Supreme Court suspends TMT construction on Mauna Kea after emergency motion

The Hawaii Supreme Court has granted an emergency motion to halt construction on the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea.

According to Tuesday’s ruling, “The Conservation District Use Permit HA-3568 is temporarily stayed until Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015, or until further order of the Court.”

The respondents, Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources, Department of Land and Natural Resources and the University of Hawaii at Hilo, have until Nov. 24 to respond.

Scott Ishikawa released the following statement on behalf of TMT: “We respect the Court decision and we will stand down between now and December 2. The Supreme Court’s decision will give all parties involved in the appeal sufficient time to respond to the motion.”

Work previously scheduled for Wednesday was supposed to be restricted to site preparation, and included repairing equipment already on Mauna Kea and re-securing the site.

“They said that it really was about prep work, repairing leaking vehicles and those kinds of activities that they would be doing on this segment of work at this time. Clearly, it’s not the start of construction,” said Gov. David Ige.

The governor released the following statement after the ruling: “I appreciate TMT’s deference to the Court’s order today and will be conferring with the Attorney General and the Department of Land and Natural Resources to determine the state’s next steps.”

According to Richard Wurdeman, the attorney who filed the emergency motion on behalf of plaintiffs, Tuesday’s ruling applies to all work, including maintenance, as authorized under the Conservation District Use Permit.

Wurdeman says the group views the plan as a disregard of the legal process, as a final decision has yet to be made by the Supreme Court.

There’s been no announcement on when actual construction of the telescope will start.

Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, Gov. Ige asked that all protests remain non-violent. He released the following statement Tuesday:

“The maintenance and equipment repair work TMT plans to undertake will protect the environment and enhance public safety as we head into the winter season. This is not the start of construction of the telescope.

“As governor, I am committed to upholding the law and providing safe access for those who need to get to the summit of Mauna Kea, and that includes those involved with the TMT project. Our primary concern is for the safety of all.

“If this work is stopped, it is not a victory. It will harm the environment. If there is violence, as some have suggested, that is not a victory. We are one community and we must continue to search for a resolution that will keep this community together.”

“We are deeply committed to respectful stewardship of the mountain, and to the vision that integrates science and culture in Hawaii and enriches the educational opportunities and local economy,” said Henry Yang, chair of the TMT International Observatory Board of Governors. “We will continue to follow the state’s laws, procedures and processes, as we have done for more than eight years, while respectfully awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision.”

The independent Ward Research conducted a statewide public opinion poll in October 2015. The total sample size was 613 residents, 18 years of age and older, conducted via both cell phone and landline.

The results:

    • Support for TMT’s construction is split among Hawaiians/part Hawaiians, with 49 percent of those polled opposing the project and 44 percent supporting the project.
    • 88 percent of Hawaii residents agree there should be a way for science and Hawaiian culture to co-exist on Mauna Kea.
    • 75 percent of Hawaii residents agree that TMT has followed a lengthy approval process, including permitting, community meetings and environmental impact statements, so work should proceed.
    • 74 percent of Hawaii residents agree that TMT will help create good paying jobs and economic benefits for those living on Hawaii Island.
    • 63 percent of Hawaii residents agree that a failure to move forward with TMT after following all regulations would hurt Hawaii’s reputation as a place to do business.
    • 62 percent of Hawaii residents support moving ahead with the construction of TMT.
    • 59 percent of Big Island residents support moving ahead with the construction of TMT.

The poll quota sampled for key demographic characteristics (e.g. age, ethnicity, gender, and island of residence). The demographics of the sample match the demographics of Hawaii based on Census data.

The margin of error is plus or minus four percent.

The Thirty Meter Telescope Project is a collaboration among Caltech, UC, the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy, and the national institutes of Japan, China, and India with the goal to design, develop, construct, and operate a thirty-meter class telescope and observatory on Mauna Kea in cooperation with the University of Hawaii.

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