Decommissioning plan for Hoku Ke‘a teaching telescope on board agenda

  • Courtesy of UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII/File The Hoku Ke‘a teaching telescope on the summit of Maunakea.

The Maunakea Management Board during a meeting today will discuss a $1.3 million plan to decommission and relocate Hoku Ke‘a, the University of Hawaii’s teaching telescope on Maunakea.

The Office of Maunakea Management’s board will take action regarding the next steps in the decommissioning of the first of five telescopes to be removed from Maunakea in exchange for the planned construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

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Hoku Ke‘a is a small teaching telescope on the Maunakea summit used by UH-Hilo astronomy students. The 36-inch telescope was removed in 2018, but the building that housed it remains on the summit.

Part of today’s board meeting will discuss a conceptual cost estimate for decommissioning and removing the building and other infrastructure. The estimate, prepared by UH-Hilo, gives the project a price tag of $1.3 million.

Little more than half of the cost estimate is dedicated to construction work at the site, including the demolition of the building, the removal of power and phone lines and conducting soil and air testing at the site.

The board previously said that the decommissioning process is intended to return the site to as close to a natural state as possible. However, the board also will discuss today several alternative decommissioning plans.

These alternatives range from a full removal of all infrastructure and full restoration of the site — the version discussed in the conceptual cost estimate — to zero action whatsoever, and lists cons for each.

For example, the full restoration plan will remove parking used by summit hikers or people playing in the snow, while also potentially disrupting operations at neighboring facilities as power lines are removed.

While UH has stated that Hoku Ke‘a will be moved elsewhere so it can continue to serve as a student telescope, a final site for that process has yet to be formally announced, and the cost estimate does not include the costs of reinstating the telescope at any site.

However, previous meetings of the Maunakea Management Board have included discussion about relocating the telescope to Halepohaku, the mid-level facility on Maunakea.

Today’s meeting takes place one day after the one-year anniversary of anti-TMT protests on Maunakea. During a months-long standoff at Maunakea Access Road by protesters arguing that constructing the telescope violated sacred indigenous lands on the mountain, UH’s management of the leased lands on Maunakea has borne increased public scrutiny and skepticism.

The UH Board of Regents has since proposed a new management structure for the Maunakea lands aimed at being more transparent and accountable, although action on that plan has been delayed. The Maunakea Management Board will discuss, but take no action on, that plan today as well.

The board will, however, take action on an updated Maunakea Education and Outreach Plan, which proposes new programs to educate visitors about the mountain’s cultural significance, its natural environment and the scientific facilities at its summit.

The plan is being updated not in response to the TMT protests, but as part of periodic revisions to the Maunakea Comprehensive Management Plan that occur every five years.

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The meeting, which starts at 5 p.m., will be viewable via livestream at www.malamamaunakea.org/mkmblive.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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