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Board approves plan to decommission Mauna Kea telescope

  • COURTESY OF CALTECH SUBMILLIMETER OBSERVATORY
                                The Caltech Submillimeter Telescope atop Mauna Kea, as seen in 2015. The Maunakea Management Board this week approved a plan for decommissioning a telescope atop Hawaii’s tallest peak.

    COURTESY OF CALTECH SUBMILLIMETER OBSERVATORY

    The Caltech Submillimeter Telescope atop Mauna Kea, as seen in 2015. The Maunakea Management Board this week approved a plan for decommissioning a telescope atop Hawaii’s tallest peak.

HILO >> The Maunakea Management Board this week approved a plan for decommissioning a telescope atop Hawaii’s tallest peak.

The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory is the first of five summit observatories scheduled to be decommissioned in exchange for the planned construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope at Mauna Kea. It ceased operations in 2015.

Jim Hayes, president of Honolulu consultancy firm Planning Solutions, Inc., presented a preliminary environmental assessment and conservation district use application for the decommissioning process to the board on Monday, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.

The plan calls for restoring the site to pre-development conditions at a cost of a little over $4 million. It could be completed by the end of 2022.

The board voted unanimously to approve the draft assessment and application.

Hayes hopes to win a permit from the state Board of Land and Natural Resources for the work in December or January.

Strong opposition to the Thirty Meter Telescope from Native Hawaiian and other groups has blocked construction of the new observatory, even though its backers have obtained necessary state permits. Opponents say telescopes desecrate the mountain summit, which many Native Hawaiians consider sacred.

The California Institute of Technology will continue to monitor its existing telescope site for three years after decommissioning to ensure that neither the structure nor the decommissioning process has left any long-term effects.

The University of Hawaii has a lease from the state to manage the summit of Mauna Kea, which is home to about a dozen of the world’s most advanced telescopes. The Maunakea Management Board is comprised of seven volunteer members nominated by the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s chancellor and approved by the university’s Board of Regents. The board is designed to give the community a voice in the management of the mountain.

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