Decommissioning of UH Hilo’s Hōkū Kea Observatory on Maunakea to begin late 2023
The decommissioning of the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo’s Hōkū Kea Observatory on the summit of Maunakea on the Big Island is tentatively scheduled to begin in late 2023 and take about five months to complete.
The Hawaiʻi Board of Land and Natural Resources approved at its April 14 meeting the Conservation District Use Application submitted by the university’s Center for Maunakea Stewardship for the decommissioning.
Hōkū Kea is the second telescope on Maunakea that is now in the final phase of the extensive decommissioning process required under the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan.
The deconstruction and site restoration of the California Institute of Technology Submillimeter Observatory is scheduled to be completed in 2023.
The Hōkū Kea site was built by the U.S. Air Force in 1970 and located on the southeastern side of the 528-acre astronomy precinct on the summit of Maunakea. It was one of the first observatories on Maunakea before it was given to UH Hilo.
The University of Hawai’i reaffirmed its promise to fulfill its commitment to complete the decommissioning of the two telescopes after the new Maunakea Stewardship and Oversight Authority was created in 2022 by the Hawai’i State Legislature.
“This is another important milestone as we prepare to transfer stewardship responsibility of the mauna to the new authority,” said Center for Maunakea Stewardship Executive Director Greg Chun.
The new authority will assume all management responsibilities of Maunakea from the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources on or before July 1, 2028. In addition, the university is working with the authority and department to transfer its leases, conservation district use permits, and an easement for lands on Maunakea to the authority on or before July 1, 2028, as required by Act 255.
After the decommissioning of the two telescopes is completed, there will be 11 operating astronomy facilities on Maunakea. Before the creation of the new authority, the university had adopted a Master Plan which committed to no more than nine facilities on Maunakea.
The decommissioning of Hōkū Kea will include the removal of the Hōkū Keʻa Observatory building, generator building and associated telecommunications and electrical infrastructure. The project includes full removal and partial restoration to a basic topography that is consistent with the area.
The Conservation District Use Application was approved with various conditions, as listed in the staff report presented to BLNR, to ensure impacts are avoided, minimized or mitigated.
The Final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact announced in June 2022 found that the project will have no significant adverse environmental impacts.
Preparation of the assessment included extensive consultation and outreach with the native Hawaiian community through the preparation of a cultural impact assessment; meetings with Kahu Kū Mauna; and an invitation to participate in the process published in the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ Ka Wai Ola newsletter and direct outreach to Native Hawaiian organizations and stakeholders, UH Hilo said in a press release.