HILO, Hawaii – The cross examination of Stephanie Nagata, the director of the Office of Mauna Kea Management, got off to an emotional start on Thursday during the contested case hearing in Hilo.
Since Nagata is a central figure in the current management of Mauna Kea, participants opposed to the Thirty Meter Telescope project came prepared to thoroughly cross examine her testimony.
Deborah Ward, one of the original petitioners now in her second contested case over the TMT permit, became visibly shaken when her line of questioning for Nagata was interrupted. University attorneys objected to cross examination having to do with the environmental impact statement for TMT. Their objections were eventually sustained, throwing Ward for an apparent loop and distressing her to the point of trembling.
She tried to continue with another line of questioning but was overcome by emotion.
Billy Freitas, another contested case participant, came to Ward’s side and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“I have no idea why this is so hard, I’m so sorry,” said the shaken Ward as she struggled to regain her composure.
Hearing officer Riki May Amano called for a 10 minute recess, allowing Ward to regroup. She finished the rest of her questioning without a hitch.
At the previous hearing date, multiple participants made it known to the hearing officer that the schedule is wearing them down.
Between attending the all day hearings, the hours of preparation for cross examination, and their other responsibilities, participants seemed to be at the point of exhaustion.
Some participants said they have had only three hours of sleep a night for days in a row.
“Its the most difficult thing I’ve done in a long time,” said participant Clarence Kukauakahi Ching.
Voicing their concerns to Amano on Dec. 6, Mehana Kihoi burst into tears as she explained her attempts to balance the care for her daughter and her work in the contested case. Others, like Pua Case, stood resolute while reminding Amano that this is not their job, but their kuleana to participate.
“I dont know who thinks its easy, even if you are paid to do it with a staff,” Case said, “but for us, its just not fair.”
“Because this is the Mauna we’re talking about,” Case said, “this is extremely important to us and we want to do the best job. And when I look around this room, we have come a far ways from the beginning of this case.”
They were also upset by possible last minute changes in the witness order.
Some of the same participants bristled at recent media characterizations calling the drawn out proceeding a filibuster intended to drag the out the hearing until the TMT corporation is forced to seek a new location.
Amano sympathized with the tired participants but told them the worst is yet to come, as an even more rigorous schedule looms in coming weeks.