Monday, October 5, 2015         

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Holland's exit fogs scope's future

An astronomy site on Mauna Kea must discover financing

By Associated Press


HILO » James Clerk Maxwell Telescope managers are studying their options after the Netherlands announced it would withdraw its 20 percent partnership in the Mauna Kea facility in early 2013.

One possibility would be for a new partner to replace the Dutch. Another is for the remaining partners, the United Kingdom and Canada, to increase their share. The operating budget could be reduced in this case.

"We are still working through the ramifications of that. There are various possibilities," Gary Davis, the telescope's director, told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. The Netherlands made the announcement in August.

The 15-meter telescope, which was built in 1987, is one of 13 observatories at the summit of Hawaii's tallest mountain. It is currently developing a $25 million imaging instrument that will help astronomers study distant regions of gas and dust that collapse to form stars.

Separately, the U.K. is expected to withdraw its 23 percent stake in Gemini, the operator of identical 8-meter telescopes in Hawaii and Chile, after next year.

Interim Director Fred Chaffee, who was hired in May for a one-year term, said his yet-to-be-named successor will have to wrestle with how the telescope will proceed.

"That is one of the challenges we face," said Chaffee.

While he's not privy to the discussions of Gemini's board of directors, Chaffee said that any new partners may not join until after negotiations for the next operating agreement in 2016. Gemini's other partner nations now include the United States, Canada, Chile, Australia, Brazil and Argentina.

Gemini is looking at cutting a handful of jobs in Hawaii to save money.

Chaffee said staff reductions will be minimal -- five or less -- as jobs that are now performed in Hilo will be consolidated on the mainland. Certain jobs in the procurement, accounting and human resource functions will be handled out of Tucson, Ariz.

One position was already been eliminated when an employee who handled benefits left Gemini to work for a private business in Hilo, Chaffee said. The observatory is not filling the position.

Chaffee said he didn't know how many others would be affected, and he said workers would be offered retraining.

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