TMT Hearing: Petitioners’ Witnesses Take the Stand

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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) shifted on Monday, Jan. 9, as witnesses for petitioners opposing the proposed TMT International Observatory’s (TIO) Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project were called to take the stand in Hilo.

Dr. Ku Kahakalau was called first. She is a recognized expert in Hawaiian language, and also the first person in the world to earn a Ph.D in Indigenous Education. She founded and formerly directed Kanu o ka ʻĀina New Century Public Charter School in Waimea.

In her testimony, Dr. Kahakalau stressed the importance of aloha ʻāina (love of the land) and mālama ʻāina (care for the land) as a “nonnegotiable.”

“It can only be educational if it follows our values system,” Dr. Kahakalau said, referring to people who argue that TMT is for educational purposes. “Building a TMT on Mauna Kea does not follow our value system, particularly of aloha ʻāina and mālama ʻāina.”


She added that the TMT project was an example of education being non-productive, non-environmental and had non-pono (proper) purposes.

Dexter Kaiama, an attorney representing nonprofit KAHEA, made a point to communicate her credibility as a native Hawaiian educator, researcher, scholar and a cultural practitioner, then asked Dr. Kahakalau if any state agencies, TIO or TMT consulted her in constructing the project.

“No, they have not,” she answered.

Nonprofit PUEO Attorney Lincoln Ashida asked Dr. Kahakalau in his cross-examination what she would say to a native Hawaiian child who wants to learn astronomy on Mauna Kea.


Dr. Kahakalau said she would support the child in learning everything about astronomy, but in the context of learning about the sacredness of land and respecting the sacredness of land in the pursuit of their science career.

The same sentiment was shared from the second witness called, Dr. Candace Fujikane, an associate professor of English at UH Mānoa. When asked her opinion about the public’s welfare if TMT is built, she said there’s already a huge injury to people who have been made to feel “less than,” so to see a place that is sacred to them be desecrated would be detrimental.

On Tuesday, Jan. 10, the petitioners called Sierra Club Director and KAHEA Board of Directors member Marti Townsend, who has been working on the Mauna Kea issue since 2005.

Petitioner Kealoha Pisciotta asked Townsend if the TMT project preserved or improved upon the open-space characteristics of natural beauty on the proposed site, one of eight criteria that the DLNR/BLNR evaluate.


“No,” Townsend said. “I mean, just from a straight-up, common sense perspective, you can see that building an 18-story, five-acre structure that’s shiny, that has loud air condition compressors… will not improve upon natural beauty.”

Townsend added that TMT listed the telescope not being located on the summit of Mauna Kea as a mitigation measure. But the TMT is so large, she said, that it cannot be sited on the summit and would actually create a larger industrial footprint at the proposed North plateau location.

“It’s disingenuous to offer that as a mitigation,” she said.

Laulani Teale, a traditional practitioner of laʻāu lapaʻau (medicine) and hoʻoponopono (an ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness), was the fourth witness called. She also holds a master’s degree in public health.

She explained that the TMT project would be detrimental to laʻāu lapaʻau because practitioners and patients “must put all of their faith into the process of healing.” If a practitioner cannot guarantee that the water, mineral source or plant that would be gathered is uncontaminated, she said the medicines cannot be used.

The BLNR contested case hearing is scheduled to continue Jan. 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.

TMT Hearing: Last TIO Witnesses Testify

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