- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - The hearing officer overseeing a contested case hearing for the Thirty Meter Telescope’s construction permit is asking lawyers in the case to meet with her next week.

Riki May Amano set the conference for Monday in Honolulu, but said it may be moved to Hilo if there are objections. She called it a “pre-hearing conference,” and promised attorneys it would be a short lunchtime meeting to discuss matters including a schedule for filing motions, procedures and logistics.

Opponents of the $1.4 billion project planned for the summit of Mauna Kea are upset over Amano’s selection as hearing officer. They say the retired Big Island judge has a conflict of interest because she pays for membership at the Imiloa Astronomy Center, which is operated by the University of Hawaii’s Hilo campus. The university, which leases the Mauna Kea land from the state, is the permit applicant in the case.

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources recently affirmed her selection as hearing officer, saying that the membership simply allows her and family to view exhibits and displays that focus on astronomy, Mauna Kea and Hawaiian culture. Amano said she won’t renew the family membership when it expires later this month.

The planned telescope is the focus of protests by those who say it will desecrate sacred land. Protest leaders say that as of Wednesday, no demonstrations are planned for Monday’s meeting, which Amano is allowing to be open to the public. One of the leaders, Lanakila Mangauil, said he wouldn’t be surprised if people show up to protest Amano.

“She obviously has a conflict of interest and this is part of the reason things went wrong in the first place,” he said.

The state Supreme Court in December ruled the land board should not have issued a permit to construct the telescope on conservation land before it held a hearing to evaluate a petition by a group challenging the project’s approval. The ruling sent the matter back for a new contested case hearing.

The new contested case hearing is gearing up as Gov. David Ige signed into law a bill that allows certain contested case hearing decisions to be directly appealed to the state Supreme Court. It also authorizes the court to appoint a master to oversee the proceeding, said state Rep. Scott Saiki, who introduced the measure.

The telescope case was one of the cases that inspired the bill, he said. Telescope opponents asked to bypass the Intermediate Court of Appeals and have the appeal go directly to the Supreme Court.

The new law will streamline that process and allow for decisions to be made more quickly, Saiki said.

While the law takes effect Aug. 1, it could apply to the telescope contested case hearing if there’s an appeal, he said.

Meanwhile, telescope officials are looking for possible alternate sites in case it can’t be built in Hawaii.

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