HILO — The Thirty Meter Telescope project is headed back to the state Supreme Court.
The high court on June 5 accepted an appeal of a lower court ruling that vacated TMT International Observatory’s sublease for 6 acres on Mauna Kea.
In December, Hilo Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura ruled the state Land Board should have granted Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner E. Kalani Flores a contested case hearing for the sublease. The board denied his request before approving the sublease with the University of Hawaii at Hilo in 2014.
The state appealed the decision and made the request for the case to be transferred from the Intermediate Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court.
Attorney David Kopper of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., who is representing Flores, said he trusts the justices to support the lower court’s decision.
“We trust they will uphold native rights … to protect public lands and sacred places,” he said.
The Supreme Court ruled against the state in 2015 for the Land Board’s decision to approve a land use permit before a contested case was held. Justices said the agency put the “cart before the horse.”
That ruling prompted the start of a new contested case, which is awaiting a decision from hearing officer and retired Judge Riki May Amano.
Kopper said the Flores case is based in part on the earlier ruling. He said it could be precedent-setting for similar board actions.
“What the case is about is: Can the state transfer land without any input from the community?” Kopper said. “There has been no case like this which says they can do that…
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