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TMT Hearing: University of Hawai‘i Rests It’s Case

December 15, 2016, 11:27 AM HST
* Updated December 15, 12:25 PM
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tmt sunset

An artist’s rendering of the Thirty Meter Telescope at sunset. TMT photo.

Permit applicant University of Hawai‘i rested its case during the state Board of Land and Natural Resources Conservation District Use Application Contested Case Hearing on the Thirty Meter Telescope on Dec. 13, 2016.

UH Attorney Ian Sandison rested the university’s case following the conclusion of direct testimony and cross-examination of witness Tom Nance.

Nance, with over 44 years in the field of water resources, is the president of Tom Nance Water Resource Engineering on O‘ahu.

He testified on surface water runoff and concerns about the contamination of Lake Waiau and aquifers that provide the island’s drinking water in order to address issues brought up by petitioners and members of the Big Island community.

Nance testified that the TMT project is a zero-waste facility and if built, it would not impact the island’s water resources.


The engineer said that the TMT policies and procedures outline the plan for zero waste, which includes catching and hauling away all wastewater from the observatory. Nance explained the water will be treated offsite and either disposed of or reused.


He acknowledged concerns about trucks carrying wastewater, including accidents that could cause spills onto the natural landscape.

Nance said that if such incident were to occur, the wastewater would have to travel thousands of feet before reaching groundwater. But, Nance added, they don’t know the exact distance to the underlying groundwater on Mauna Kea.

Nance also stated that he is aware that there are other observatories on the mountain that do not have a zero-waste policy and that the discharge from those facilities would “precipitate downward” into the landscape.


Nance also addressed Native Hawaiians’ concerns that Lake Waiau is at risk for contamination from construction of the TMT, as well as from waste from daily operations, including hazardous materials (including mercury for telescope mirror washing) and human waste.

Other possible contaminants include construction equipment oil leaks, and other chemicals and materials used in construction and operation of the TMT project.

Nance said it is “impossible” for the TMT project to contaminate Lake Waiau or the many aquifers.

Nance explained that Lake Waiau is isolated and it would be impossible for surface water runoff to reach it. Runoff flows away from the lake in a southwesterly direction, so it would not be an issue, he said.

Nance testified that though Lake Waiau is at a slightly lower elevation than the proposed TMT site, contaminated water runoff is not an issue.

Upon further questioning by petitioners, Nance clarified his statement and acknowledged that although highly unlikely, it is possible.

Nance said the water in the lake comes from rainfall and snow.

During petitioner Harry Fergerstrom’s cross-examination of Nance, he acknowledged that there was a lot of discussion about Lake Waiau in both Nance’s written and direct testimonies.

Nance said he was not aware that Native Hawaiians regard Lake Waiau as a sacred site of the three goddesses: Poli‘ahu, Lilinoe and Waiau.

Nance said Lake Waiau’s exists due to high-level ground dikes.

Nance testified during cross-examination by multiple petitioners that in reality, the locations and quantities of lava tubes, aqueducts, cracks and crevasses on Mauna Kea are unknown to him and everyone else.

An impermeable layer at the bottom of the lake enables it to rise and is also the reason the contamination from the TMT batch plant and project site are impossible, said Nance.

Nance said there has been very little research done on Mauna Kea’s water resources. He cited one study that showed the materials at the bottom of the lake are between 10,000 to 15,000 years old.

During petitioner Mehana Kihoi’s cross-examination, she asked Nance about the accumulative impacts of all existing structures on the mountain and the fact that nowhere in his testimony does he mention their impacts on water resources.

Nance agreed that although no studies of this kind have been completed, he does believe the accumulative impacts of all structures on the summit to the aquifer are important from a hydrology perspective.

Nance also testified that he has never completed any hydrology studies, water runoff studies or testing for hazardous contaminants on Mauna Kea. He also said he has never completed peer-reviewed studies of any kind on Mauna Kea, Hawai‘i Island, the State of Hawai‘i or anywhere in the world.

Petitioner Cindy Freitas asked Nance why he was testifying in the hearing if he had never completed any studies—other than what he described as “grabbing water samples” from Lake Waiau and spring waters.

Nance said he was providing his professional opinion.

A contested case hearing was requested with respect to the 2011 decision by the BLNR to issue a permit to build the $1.4 billion next-generation telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea.

The Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruled the permit invalid until a contested case hearing could be held to evaluate a petition by a group challenging the project’s approval.

The BLNR contested case hearing on the TMT project is scheduled to continue with TMT International Observatory LLC’s (TIO) first witnesses, David Callies and Naea Stevens, at 9 a.m. Friday, Dec. 16, in the Willie K. Crown Room at the Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo on Hawai‘i Island.

Callies is expected to testify as a land use and planning expert. Stevens is a Native Hawaiian practitioner on Mauna Kea.

Download TIO’s full witness list here.

The hearing is also scheduled for Dec. 19 and 20, as well as Jan. 3 to 5, 9 to 12, 19, 23 to 26, 30 and 31.

At this time, the hearing expected to be in session through February 2017.

TMT Hearing: Emotions Continue to Run High

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