The Hawaii Supreme Court handed down two opinions Thursday that upheld government approvals for the advanced-technology solar telescope under construction at the summit of Haleakala.
The high court ruled that the state Board of Land and Natural Resources followed proper procedures when it approved the University of Hawaii's construction permit for the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope. In a separate opinion, the court said the management plan for the Haleakala observatory site, which the university submitted to the Land Board as a requirement for the permit approval, doesn't need an environmental impact statement.
Kilakila o Haleakala, a group of Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, had challenged both the management plan and the permit.
University of Hawaii President David Lassner and UH-Manoa Institute for Astronomy Director Gunther Hasinger said in a written statement that the university is pleased with the Supreme Court's actions.
"We are still reviewing the full decisions, but we look forward to 'first light' when the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope will open a new era of discovery, here in Hawaii, about the sun and its daily impacts on all life on Earth," Lassner said.
Hasinger said, "DKIST is a unique and essential next step for astronomers to gain new insights into solar phenomena so we can see more clearly into the heart of sunspots, flares and other solar activity."
The vertical and external construction of the 14-story housing facility is complete, with just internal work remaining. The university said the $340 million project is on budget and on track to be operational in 2019.
The Native Hawaii Legal Corp., which represented Kilakila o Haleakala in the appeals, expressed disappointment.
It released a statement saying the decisions "impact all who are concerned about the protection of Hawaii's natural and cultural resources" and that the firm's clients "remain committed to ensuring these important resources receive the protection they so urgently and rightfully command."
State Attorney General Doug Chin said the state will consider the decisions carefully "to determine what impact, if any, they have on future matters before the Land Board, including the Thirty Meter Telescope" proposed for the summit of Mauna Kea.
The Land Board is conducting an administrative contested-case hearing later this month on the board's approval of a permit for the TMT.
In 2010 UH submitted its construction permit application for the solar telescope and solicited public comment on its management plan for the Haleakala observatory site. The telescope is within the observatory site's 18 acres.
The permit application included an environmental impact statement with proposed remedies for the anticipated effects of the telescope's construction. The management plan included a less stringent environmental assessment of the effects of new projects on the observatory site.
The Land Board approved both the management plan and the permit.
Kilakila o Haleakala appealed the approval of the management plan in state court, and after several requests and the filing of a court appeal, the Land Board granted the group a contested-case hearing to challenge the construction permit.
After the contested-case hearing on the permit, the hearings officer recommended the Land Board approve the construction. The Land Board did not accept the recommendation and appointed a new hearings officer after the original hearings officer said he sent an email to the lawyer for the UH Institute for Astronomy after the hearing. In the email, the hearings officer asked whether the lawyer had anything to do with pressure he received from Sen. Inouye's and Gov. Neil Abercrombie's offices to release his recommendation.
The new hearings officer also recommended, and the Land Board approved, the construction permit for the telescope. Kilakila o Haleakala appealed to the state court. The court and the ICA upheld the permit approval. The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the ICA's decision.
When completed, the DKIST will be the world's largest solar telescope. Its 14-foot primary mirror with adaptive optics technology will be able to collect unprecedented detail of the surface of the sun. The project is funded by the National Science Foundation and will be administered by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, a collaboration of 20 institutions, including UH.