Maunakea telescope decommissioning takes key step with final environmental assessment

University of Hawaiʻi’s Hōkū Keʻa Observatory on Maunakea. Photo Courtesy: UH

The decommissioning of the University of Hawaiʻi’s Hōkū Keʻa Observatory on Maunakea met a critical milestone with the environmental assessment finding no significant impact to remove two buildings and supporting infrastructure, according to a UH news release.

The proposed project to decommission the observatory on the Big Island also includes restoration of the site to its original state, as much as possible.

The Final Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) was published in The Environmental Notice on June 23, 2022.

The Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources now can complete its review of UH’s application for a conservation district use permit (CDUP). DLNR will then present the CDUP application to its Board of Land and Natural Resources for its consideration and approval.

If the permit is issued, the university can begin the removal of the observatory and site restoration. The decommissioning is tentatively scheduled to be completed by late 2023. Hōkū Keʻa is one of two Maunakea telescopes undergoing decommissioning. 

The removal of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory on Maunakea is tentatively scheduled to be completed by Caltech in late 2023.

The Hōkū Keʻa site, located on the southeastern side of the 528-acre astronomy precinct on the summit of Maunakea, was built by the US Air Force in 1970. It was one of the first observatories on Maunakea before it was given to the University of Hawaiʻi Hilo. 

After lengthy consultation with the Maunakea Management Board and Kahu Kū Mauna, UH is in the planning process to install a new teaching telescope for UH Hilo, a state-of-the-art, 0.7-meter telescope system, in a small structure at the Halepōhaku mid-level facility on Maunakea.

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