In a closed-door meeting, the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) voted 5-2 to approve a permit that would allow the construction of a the largest telescope in the world atop Mauna Kea in Hilo, Hawaii.

“This was one of the most difficult decisions this board has ever made,” Chairperson Suzanne Case said in a prepared statement about plans by the Pasadena-based nonprofit proposing the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT.  “The members greatly respected and considered the concerns raised by those opposed to the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope at the Mauna Kea Science Reserve.”

There are currently 14 other telescopes occupying the location where TMT is to be built.

Critics decried the decision and pointed out that the board voted in private after claiming the meeting was a contested case hearing and not covered by the state’s open meeting law.

Both the state supreme court and a federal circuit court had given the BLNR directions to conduct the contested case hearing in private, according to the state’s website.

Critics immediately lambasted the process, saying it was rushed, biased and rife with conflicts of interest and secrecy. They plan to appeal the decision and take their fight to the state Supreme Court. 

“That’s been the expectation all along — that whatever decision was made by the land board would result in an appeal,” said Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin. 

Both sides are planning their next steps. Construction could begin before the state high court rules on the issue.

TMT needs to file for a Notice to Proceed with the state Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands before work can start. 

“We are committed to assure and protect the rights of individuals to voice their opinion on the project. At the same time, we are prepared to assure access to those who are permitted to proceed,” said Gov. David Ige. 

In an attempt to resolve some of the conflict, the board released a report along with its press release summarizing many of the issues that critics had cited in their opposition to the telescope.

According to the report, the telescope “will not pollute groundwater, damage any historic sites, harm rare plants or animals (or) otherwise harm the environment.”

TMT is not being built on a site that is used for traditional Native Hawaii cultural practices. It is also not located on the summit ridge, having instead been planned for an area 500 feet lower than the “more culturally important” summit area.