Emails Back Up Concerns Of Inouye Interference In Maui Telescope Case

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Staffers working for Sen. Daniel Inouye have been helping state and university officials make sure that a $300 million solar telescope on Maui gets built, according to internal government emails.

But a Native Hawaiian group that is challenging the project in state hearings and in court say emails released under court order in a public records lawsuit show Inouye's staff and high-level state officials wrongly brought political pressure to bear on a state hearing officer who was considering whether a permit should be issued for the telescope.

Kilakila o Haleakala objects to the University of Hawaii’s Advanced Technology Solar Telescope on cultural and environmental grounds and has filed several lawsuits to stop it. The emails bolster allegations that the senator’s office crossed a legal line by taking up the UH side of the contested case and could aid Kilakila o Haleakala's attempts to derail the project.

The Institute of Astronomy says the ATST is a world-class telescope that will allow astrophysicists to study solar wind and solar flares and their impact on Earth's climate. The telescope, the largest of its kind, is slated to be built on an 18-acre site known as "Science City," which includes about a half dozen other observatories.

Inouye has long supported the telescope and has championed the science and technology sector in Hawaii. "Senator Inouye remains a strong supporter of the ATST project on Haleakala," his spokesman, Peter Boylan, said in an email.

Jennifer Sabas, Inouye’s chief of staff, recently led efforts to move the telescope forward, according to the emails. She did not respond to an interview request.

Earlier this year, attorneys for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation requested that UH disclose any correspondence between Inouye’s office and Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s administration on the telescope after a state hearing officer said that he had been inappropriately pressured by Inouye’s staff. The former superintendant of Haleakala National Park, Marilyn Parris, also said that Inouye's staff had placed "heavy pressure" on her to stifle objections to the project, according to documents.

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