- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 12, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - The attorney representing a group fighting to stop a giant telescope from being built on Mauna Kea is withdrawing from the case.

Richard Naiwieha Wurdeman said in a notice filed Monday that he has scheduling conflicts with an upcoming hearing in the telescope case. A new contested-case hearing is necessary after a state Supreme Court ruling last year invalidated the project’s permit to build on the mountain.

The $1.4 billion project has been the focus of intense protests by those who say Mauna Kea’s summit is sacred to Native Hawaiians.

The hearing was originally scheduled to begin this week, but the hearing officer postponed it to next week after Wurdeman said he has other cases that conflicted with the schedule.

According to his notice, he also can’t make it next week. He previously proposed moving the hearing to January.

Thirty Meter Telescope officials have said they want a permit in place by the end of the year or early next year in order to resume construction. They are pursuing alternate sites in case the telescope can’t be built in Hawaii.

“We have been respectfully following the process and timetable as laid out by the hearings officer since July and will continue to do so,” TMT spokesman Scott Ishikawa said in a statement Wednesday. “We look forward to the contested case hearings starting next week and hope that permitting activities continue apace so that TMT can be under construction on Maunakea by April 2018.”

Kealoha Pisciotta, a leader of the anti-telescope group, denied that they are trying to delay the case so that telescope officials give up on Hawaii.

“Listen, our rights are not dependent on TMT’s schedule,” she said. “When you go into these contested-case hearings it takes a long time. It’s not our fault.”

Wurdeman couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. His filing said he is out of the state for a matter involving another client and was expected to return Wednesday.

For now, Pisciotta said her group will represent themselves without an attorney, as they did during the first contested-case hearing. Wurdeman started representing the group pro bono during the appeals process.

There’s not enough time to find a new lawyer who can get up to speed by next week, she said.

“Our case is strong,” Pisciotta said, “and our faith is strong.”

The hearing is expected to last into November.

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