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A long-awaited Hawaii Supreme Court ruling Wednesday invalidating a construction permit for what would be one of the world's largest telescopes represents a major setback for the $1.4 billion project on a mountain astronomers tout for having perfect star-gazing conditions.

The ruling is a victory for protesters who say they are fighting the project to curb development, preserve Native Hawaiian culture and protect the Big Island's Mauna Kea, a mountain many consider sacred.

The court ruled that the state Board of Land and Natural Resources should not have issued a permit for the telescope before a hearings officer reviewed a petition by a group challenging the project's approval.

"Quite simply, the board put the cart before the horse when it issued the permit before the request for a contested case hearing was resolved and the hearing was held," the court's 58-page opinion said. "Accordingly, the permit cannot stand."

The ruling sends the matter back for a new contested case hearing.

"Today's decision provides direction to a new land board and another opportunity for people to discuss Mauna Kea's future," state Attorney General Doug Chin said in a statement. "The attorney general's office will be advising the land board regarding next steps."

A group of universities in California and Canada plan to build the Thirty Meter Telescope with partners from China, India and Japan.


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