A University of Hawaii telescope project on Maui continues to struggle through a permitting process that has been shrouded in controversy and missteps.

The original hearing officer was booted off the case after having inappropriate discussions with the UH Institute of Astronomy.

Now his replacement, Rosemary Fazio, has resigned as hearing officer amid conflict of interest complaints: Fazio represents UH president M.R.C. Greenwood as her personal attorney.

Native Hawaiian group, Kilakila o Haleakala, opposes the $300 million Haleakala project and has challenged a key permit. The group cites its impact on cultural resources and practices. It was the group’s objection to Fazio that prompted her resignation.

“I do not believe this representation would compromise my objectivity in this matter. Nevertheless I have determined that in light of Kilakila’s objection, it is prudent for me to withdraw as the hearing officer for this contested case hearing,” Fazio said in a May 1 letter to Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Director William Aila.

As a result, Hawaii officials on Wednesday appointed former state deputy attorney general Lane Ishida to fill the post.

Ishida was chosen from a pool of six pre-qualified applicants by the same three-member selection committee of state employees that chose Fazio. Comments and objections to Ishida’s appointment are due by Thursday, May 10.

Fazio has already spent time reviewing documents for the case and discussing it with Aila’s staff. But she said in her letter that she won’t charge the state for her time.

The case has been before the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources for more than a year and a half.

The previous hearing officer on the case, Steven Jacobson, was dismissed earlier this month after the board ruled that improper discussions about the case had taken place between him and the UH Institute of Astronomy. He also alleged he was pressured by U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye’s staff to speed up his decision. Inouye is a strong supporter of the project.

The board threw out Jacobson’s recommendations to avoid “even the appearance of impropriety,” shortly after he had submitted a final 115-page decision in the case. Jacobson found that the project’s permit was valid and that Kilakila o Haleakala should not be allowed to intervene. The board ultimately decides the case.

In related news, the board this week also clarified what UH can and can’t do on Haleakala before this issue is resolved. A a minute order [pdf] released Tuesday limits construction to removal of a certain cite and other unused facilities.

Any additional construction done before the conclusion of the contested case “is done at UH’s sole risk and discretion and … shall not be a basis for a later assertion of vested rights or exclusive privilege,” the board said.

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