2/13 – Kimberly “Kealoha” Pisciotta take the stand
After a two-week break, the contested case hearings related to the TMT project resumed this week in Hilo.
Monday’s hearing at the Grand Naniloa Hotel had contested case petitioner and cultural practitioner Kimberly “Kealoha” Pisciotta take the stand on behalf of the TMT opponents.
Pisciotta testified that the Maunakea observatories are taking away Hawaiians’ rights for cultural practices on the mountain. While being cross-examined, Pisciotta blamed the local astronomy industry for the desecration of Maunakea, not the Maunakea visitors or Hawaiian practitioners.
While Pisciotta said she supported the study of astronomy, she questioned whether the University of Hawaii was overstating the importance of the knowledge being collected through the telescopes’ observations of the universe.
“For example, when the KECK Observatory discovers a new black hole so many light years away. The question is what does this information mean for people, what does it do for the people really?” Pisciotta asked in her written testimony. “From a science perspective, it means we discovered something we believe is a black hole event that may have existed millions of years ago and may not exist today. I would say this information is important in an academic kind of way but it does nothing immediate to help mankind. So, I would have to say it’s a bit much to claim all of astronomy will somehow benefit directly from these kinds of discoveries.”
Pisciotta also argued that any runoff from Thirty Meter Telescope would taint nearby Lake Waiau on the summit and the island’s overall water supply, claiming that “Mauna Kea feeds as many as five aquifers around the island.” Hydrologist Tom Nance had testified earlier during the hearings that the nearest groundwater well is nearly 13 miles away near Parker Ranch and that the thousands of feet of lava rock material help filter any water from the mountain to the underground aquifer.
TMT attorney Douglas Ing used his cross examination to question whether Pisciotta had actual data showing Lake Waiau would be contaminated by the TMT project or was that just Pisciotta’s beliefs.
“It’s my job to ask questions, it’s not my burden to collect data on the matter,” Pisciotta replied.
Ing explained that it was his job to understand her knowledge of the facts as part of the hearings. The attorney then rephrased his question on whether Pisciotta had data that “shows TMT will impact the snow, water or ice at Lake Waiau,” to which Pisciotta replied no.
Based on Pisciotta’s comments during her testimony, Ing also questioned some of her implications that a federal environmental impact statement was needed for the Thirty Meter Telescope project.
“Has any federal agency required a federal environmental impact statement for the TMT project,” Ing asked Pisciotta, in which she answered no.
Through legal documents, Ing explained to the hearing parties that no federal agency has provided any funding for construction or operation of the Thirty Meter Telescope, so it did not trigger or require a federal EIS for the project. Pisciotta said she disputed that argument, but Ing stressed that he wanted her personal position on the hearings record.
If the witness testimony remains on schedule, witnesses representing the pro-TMT group PUEO will take the stand this week, most likely beginning on Wednesday. The group, made up mainly of the Keaukaha-Paneewa Hawaiian Homesteads in Hilo, supports the TMT project and believes in the advancement of Native Hawaiian students in astronomy and other STEM-related fields.
The hearings for this week continue Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.