TMT Hearing: Cross-Examinations Continue

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tmt sunset

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

The contested case hearing for the state Board of Land and Natural Resources Conservation District Use Application (CDUA) on the Thirty Meter Telescope resumed on Tuesday, Jan. 3, after a two-week hiatus over the holidays.

The purpose of the case hearing is to properly provide state agencies—in this case, hearing officer and retired Hawaiʻi Island Circuit Court Judge Riki May Amano—with as much relevant information to evaluate—something petitioning parties were not given the option to present when the CDUA was conditionally approved by the BLNR on Feb. 25, 2011.

The Hawaiʻi Supreme Court ruled on Dec. 2, 2015, that the permit was invalid until a contested case hearing was conducted.

TMT International Observatory LLC. Attorney James Douglas Ing called UH’s fifth witness, Dr. Gary Sanders, TMT’s project manager since 2004. He is responsible for the design and construction management of the proposed $1.4 billion telescope.


During cross-examination, petitioners’ questions pertained to Sanders’ 22-page written testimony. It outlines the TMT observatory design that minimizes visual and other impacts; the plan infrastructure upgrades to support the TMT project and plans to minimize these upgrades; TMT project’s initiation to decommission; mitigation measures, which relate to design and construction; and cultural aspects.

Sanders said they “took great pains to reduce the size of the telescope—to reduce the size of the dome, which means you reduce the footprint also of the observatory, and use less land and interfere less with the other uses of the land around the observatory.”

In petitioner Kealoha Pisciotta’s cross-examination, she questioned Sanders’ “TMT Project Mitigation Measures” section of his testimony regarding “sense of place.”

In it, he refers to the TMT facilities as being “furnished with items to provide a sense of place and acknowledge the cultural sensitivity and spiritual attributes of Mauna Kea” and “be a constant reminder of the lessons learned during the required annual cultural training to respect, honor and not restrict or interfere with cultural or religious practices.”


Pisciotta asked him if he had spoken with any of the petitioners about this. Sanders said no. Pisciotta followed up by asking how he got a sense of place without speaking to any of the petitioners.

Sanders said he did not know how to answer that.

Similar discourse occurred when petitioner Mehana Kihoi cross-examined Sanders. In his testimony, cultural outreach is labeled as providing “an open-door policy” to the Native Hawaiian community with issues and concerns. She asked if there had been any discussion about outreach to Native Hawaiian children who have been traumatized by the project, specifically her child who witnessed her arrest while in prayer on Mauna Kea.

Ing objected; Sanders didn’t answer. Kihoi responded by asking if Sanders had reached out to any of the numerous people who were arrested. He said no.


She then asked if he understood why they were arrested. Again, Ing objected. His objections were sustained by Judge Amano.

When petitioner Hank Fergerstrom cross-examined Sanders, he questioned how their team came up with a four-day limit each year where Native Hawaiian cultural practices would be allowed and observed. Sanders answered that they consulted with the State Historic Preservation Division.

The BLNR contested case hearing is scheduled to continue Jan. 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 19, 23, 24, 25 and 26 in the Grand Naniloa Hotel Crown Room in Hilo from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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