The University of Hawaii says it will begin construction of a controversial $300 million telescope atop Haleakala as soon as next month even though a critical permit has been challenged and a state board hasn’t ruled on the case yet.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources issued a conservation district use permit for the project in December 2010. However, the permit was challenged by Kilakila o Haleakala, a Native Hawaiian group, that said it should have never been granted.
The contested case appeared close to closure last month when a hearings officer, who had spent about a year reviewing the case, recommended to the Board of Land and Natural Resources that the permit be upheld. Steven Jacobson said that Kilakila o Haleakala had no authority to intervene in the matter.
But the board tossed out Jacobson’s recommendations and dismissed him, saying he’d had improper contact with others about the case. Jacobson had said that he had received pressure from Sen. Daniel Inouye’s office to rule favorably toward the telescope.
The board ordered that a new hearings officer be hired to review the case.
But the UH’s Institute of Astronomy says it has no intention on waiting for the case to be re-heard.
In a letter sent to DLNR this week, Michael Maberry, the institute’s assistant director, wrote, “we are formally notifying the Department of Land and Natural Resources that construction activity will commence on Monday, May 14th, 2012.”
Maberry told Civil Beat that “if you look at the conditions of the permit, you will clearly see that we could have started any time since December 2, 2010” — the date that the permit was issued.
DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward said that the department had no comment Thursday afternoon.
David Kimo Frankel, who represents Kilakila o Haleakala, called the institute’s position “ridiculous.”
He also called the university’s action “unprecedented and insulting to our clients,” in a statement released to the media.
“The university is trying to bulldoze its project through without regard to legal requirements, the impacts to Native Hawaiians, or the consequences to the National Park,” Frankel said in the statement. “A developer cannot start building before the Board decides the basic question as to whether the development should be built in the first place.”
Maberry said that technically there was no stay of the permit.
There’s $146 million in federal stimulus funds that must be used by September 2015, he said. He estimated that the construction of the project is expected to take five to seven years.
If the permit is later invalidated, Maberry said, “we will have to evaluate the situation at that time.”