|Hawaii's Supreme Court on Thursday affirmed a permit to build a solar telescope on a Maui mountain.
The ruling denies a challenge by a group seeking to protect the sacredness of the summit of Haleakala (hah-leh-AH'-ka-lah). The University of Hawaii followed proper procedure for an environmental assessment, the Supreme Court also ruled in a separate ruling.
Last year, eight people were arrested when protesters tried to stop a construction convoy heading to the solar telescope site. Kahele Dukelow, one of the protest leaders, said opponents are disappointed and considering what their next steps will be.
"We only have one alternative now," she said. "We have to continue to protest in other ways."
They hoped the decision would be similar to the court's ruling last year that invalidated a permit to build the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island's Mauna Kea. That project has been the focus of more intense protests. Opposition to both telescopes cite concerns that the projects will desecrate sacred land.
The permit approval process was not "procedurally flawed by prejudgment" nor was it "flawed by impermissible ex parte communication," the court's 3-2 majority opinion said.
State Attorney General Doug Chin said his office will look into whether the rulings have any impact on future matters before the state land board, including the Thirty Meter Telescope.
"We are disappointed with the court's decision," said a statement from the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., which represents the group that challenged the solar telescope project, Kilakila O Haleakala. "This decision impacts all who are concerned about the protection of Hawaii's natural and cultural resources."
Officials with the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope didn't immediately comment.
"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 in Hawaii, about the sun and its daily impacts on all life on Earth," university President David Lassner said in a statement.
External construction of the Maui telescope is complete, with only internal work remaining, according to the university. The $340-million project is scheduled to be operational in 2019. Construction of the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope remains stalled pending a new contested case hearing scheduled to begin later this month.