- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - Lawyers representing the University of Hawaii’s Hilo campus want a different hearing officer to oversee construction permit proceedings for the Thirty Meter Telescope.

A statement filed with the state land board says the university “with great reluctance” requests replacing retired Big Island judge Riki May Amano as hearing officer.

The university is the permit applicant because it leases the Mauna Kea land from the state. The state Supreme Court in December invalidated the project’s permit, ruling the land board should not have issued a permit to construct the telescope on land designated for conservation 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 hearing.

The board affirmed Amano’s selection as contested case hearing officer over telescope opponents’ conflict-of-interest complaints that she paid for membership at the Imiloa Astronomy Center. Opponents of the $1.4 billion project include Native Hawaiians who say it will desecrate sacred land.

In its filing, the university said it doesn’t agree with the opponents’ reasons for wanting to replace Amano and called objections to her selection delay tactics.

“Motions asserting baseless objections are designed to stall the contested case hearing for as long as possible,” the university said.

Amano is “eminently qualified” to be the hearing officer, the university said.

However, the university is making the replacement request after recently learning she’s mediating another matter involving the Manoa campus. Officials learned about it earlier this week, said university spokesman Dan Meisenzahl.

In a letter posted Thursday on the state Department of Land and Natural Resources website, Amano explains her role as mediator in what she describes as an unrelated dispute over funding a faculty position. The mediation, which is still active, won’t “affect my impartiality as a hearings officer for this contested case hearing,” she wrote.

She notes that the role of a hearing officer is different from that of a mediator: “A mediator is not a factfinder or decision-maker.”

It’s not clear if the university’s request will affect a June 17 Hilo hearing Amano recently scheduled for requests made to participate in the contested case hearing.

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