HILO — Opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to halt the project on the grounds that the developers failed to post a security bond in accordance with the state’s 1977 Maunakea Plan.
According to the lawsuit, filed in Hilo Circuit Court, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources issued the TMT project a notice to proceed despite the project not posting a security bond as required by the state Maunakea Plan. Because of this, the lawsuit argues, the notice to proceed is invalid and the project cannot go on.
The lawsuit names the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory and 10 public officials as defendants, including Gov. David Ige, state Attorney General Clare Connors, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim, University of Hawaii President David Lassner, and the members of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.
Religious organization Mauna Kea Anaina Hou and seven individuals are named as petitioners.
“Number one, we want to protect the people of Hawaii from abuse by the powers-that-be,” said Kealoha Pisciotta, one of the petitioners and president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou. “And number two, this is a lawful way to stop a project we don’t agree with … and if they are going to do the project, they’d better follow the law.”
The state Maunakea Plan was approved by the BLNR in 1977 to establish guidelines for all projects involving the mountain. Among its guidelines is a requirement that “no application for any proposed facility shall have final approval without the applicant having first filed, with the Board, adequate security equal to the amount of the contract to construct the telescope facilities.”
“A bond shows that you mean what you say,” Pisciotta said. “The people of Hawaii are already paying for bad political decisions. And now they’re ready to hurt people, to arrest people, but they don’t respect us enough to post a bond?”
The TMT observatory is estimated to have a $1.4 billion price tag. Therefore, the project’s security bond also would have to be $1.4 billion, according to the 1977 plan.
However, the most recent Maunakea Comprehensive Management Plan, adopted in 2009, makes no mention of security bonds. During the 2017 TMT contested case hearing, a petitioner raised the security bond issue, but the Land Board argued that the 1977 plan was a “policy guide” that was only 17 pages long, but has since been replaced by a much more detailed plan.
Nevertheless, Big Island attorney Gary Zamber, who filed the suit, argued that the bond requirement remains in place and is applicable to all projects on Maunakea, including the TMT project.
Douglas Ing, TMT attorney, said TMT lawyers had only briefly reviewed an unfiled copy of the suit by late Tuesday, but added that “we believe this is a weak lawsuit and we expect to defeat it.”
Kim washed his hands of the issue Tuesday, saying the county has no authority over the issues named in the lawsuit.
“Everyone should understand this is a state project,” he said. “Yes, I am involved in it now because I was asked by the governor some time ago to see if I could come up with ideas how to go forward. And that’s what I presented (Monday before the Hawaii County Council). But none of it is related to this. I have no jurisdiction, authority or involvement in the things that I am being accused of.”
“I understand people’s concerns,” Kim went on. “If things don’t go right, who’s going to pay for it? That is a big concern. But the land is ceded land, we know it’s under the state. The contract is with the University of Hawaii, which is obviously the state. Nowhere in there do you see County of Hawaii.”
Representatives of the University of Hawaii and the BLNR declined to comment about the lawsuit.
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