East Hawaii News

BLNR Affirms Hearing Officer for TMT Permit Case

May 6, 2016, 4:53 PM HST
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An artist's rendering of TMT with its vents open. TMT photo.

An artist’s rendering of TMT with its vents open. TMT photo.

Retired Big Island Judge Riki May Amano will remain as the presiding hearing officer for the Conservation Use District Application for the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea.

All seven members of the Board of Land and Natural Resources agreed to allow Judge Amano to remain on the hearing, despite objections raised by a group of petitioners who questioned whether she could be impartial because of her family’s membership with the University of Hawai’i at Hilo’s ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.

“A ‘family membership’ does not confer any right to participate in ‘Imiloa’s governance or decision making, in contrast to organizations where members may vote for a board of directors or other officers,” the BLNR stated in its decision, saying that the membership only allows her and her family to “view exhibits and displays at a museum that focuses on astronomy, Mauna Kea, and Hawaiian culture.”

Last month, Judge Amano stated in a written document that she and her husband have spent $85 per year since 2008 to obtain the family membership to ‘Imiloa, which comes with free admission and discounts at the gift shop and on-site restaurant. Their current membership expires on May 24, and she stated that it would not be renewed.

Judge Amano also stated that she did not initially know that ‘Imiloa was a part of UH-Hilo.

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“The Board would certainly encourage hearing officers to disclose a broad range of known relationships…but it will not disqualify Judge Amano for not disclosing her ‘Imiloa family membership, which even in connection with facts she did not know, is not something that a reasonable person would consider likely to affect the impartiality of the arbitrator. The Board finds that under the applicable legal standards, a reasonable person knowing all the facts would not doubt the impartiality of Judge Amano,” the BLNR said in its review.

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Petitioners also questioned whether the Board violated the state’s Sunshine Laws in its selection of Judge Amano as its hearing officer. According to the Department of Land and Natural Resources, a public notice seeking attorneys to hear the case was published on Jan. 29. The Board also found that it did not need to make the selection in an open meeting because Sunshine laws don’t apply to boards exercising adjudicatory functions, such as contesting a case hearing.

The Board was once again put in charge of determining whether the Thirty Meter Telescope would be obtain a CUDA after Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura remanded the case in February. Judge Amano’s appointment was initially announced on March 31.

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