HONOLULU (AP) — Opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope want construction equipment and vehicles removed from Mauna Kea now that the Hawaii Supreme Court has invalidated the project's permit.
In a Wednesday ruling seen as a victory for opponents fighting the $1.4 billion project, the court said the state land board approved a permit that allowed construction on conservation land before a contested case hearing was held. The court sent the matter back for a new contested case hearing.
"They have no permit. It's been vacated," said Kealoha Pisciotta, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the permit. "They absolutely, immediately have to remove all their stuff."
But the state attorney general's office said Thursday the equipment can remain because the project has a sublease with the University of Hawaii for a portion of the Big Island mountain. "As long as TMT does not engage in activities that constitute a land use in the conservation district, TMT would not require a permit or be subject to fines," said a statement from attorney general spokesman Joshua Wisch.
Storing large equipment on the mountain is not consistent with conservation district use, said Richard Naiwieha Wurdeman, the attorney representing the permit challengers. He said he's ready to take legal action to ensure the equipment is removed.
Project spokesman Scott Ishikawa said officials are still assessing what to do next, including issues related to the equipment on the mountain.
"The ball's certainly in their court at this point, whether they want to start the process all over again," Wurdeman said. "We're ready to challenge them every step of the way."
If telescope officials opt to proceed with a new contested case hearing, the entire process could take several years, Wurdeman said: "They have an insurmountable burden if they decide to go forward."
Longtime telescope supporter and Big Island farmer Richard Ha said he hopes telescope officials don't give up on a project he believes will provide significant economic and educational opportunities.
"I know that they've done everything they possibly can to do the right thing," he said. "I hope they hang in there."
In the meantime, there was a sense of relief among telescope protesters that they won't have to worry about construction resuming on land many hold sacred.
"I think people are going to want to go (up to the summit) and rejoice and we support that," Pisciotta said. "But we want people to remember that it's a temple and they need to uphold their best behavior and know that they are walking in the gods' realm. ... Just have reverence."
While some protesters were celebrating the ruling, others were in court for charges related to being arrested for blocking construction crews from accessing the telescope site.
Wurdeman called on the governor to urge that all charges be dismissed.
"There is no plan to ask the county prosecutor to dismiss those prosecutions," said a statement from Gov. David Ige's office. "These trials are currently ongoing and we're not going to interfere with the judicial process."
Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jennifer-sinco-kelleher.