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An artist's conception of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

TMT Collaborative

Hawaii's high court blocks construction of giant telescope

Native Hawaiian groups seeking to block construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) atop the state's Mauna Kea volcano have won a major court victory. Hawaii’s Supreme Court today ruled that a state planning board acted improperly in 2011 in granting a permit for TMT construction before it completed a hearing on objections to the permit.

“Quite simply, the [state Board of Land and Natural Resources] put the cart before before the horse when it issued the permit before the request for a contested case hearing was resolved and the hearing was held,” Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald wrote in a 2 December opinion. “Accordingly, the permit cannot stand.”

In addition to vacating a lower court’s ruling in 2014 that upheld the permit, the court ordered the state board to conduct the required hearing. A new permit would be required for TMT construction to proceed.

Protests and lawsuits have extensively delayed efforts to begin construction of the TMT, which is expected to cost more than $1 billion and become one of the most powerful land-based telescopes in the world. Native Hawaiian groups say the project represents an inappropriate use of sacred land, and that state agencies have improperly ignored their views. Protesters began blocking a road to the telescope site this past April, halting construction, and more recent clashes have prevented resumption of construction.

With reporting by Ilima Loomis in Hawaii.