Reports: Hazardous substances should not be an issue during Hoku Kea demo

The Maunakea Management Board has determined the planned decommissioning of the Hoku Kea observatory on the Maunakea summit will likely not release or otherwise involve hazardous materials.

During a meeting late Tuesday, the board discussed a pair of environmental assessments regarding the planned demolition process of the University of Hawaii’s vacant teaching telescope facility at the summit.


Hoku Kea is one of five observatories to be removed from the summit in exchange for the planned construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. While the observatory was meant to house UH’s teaching telescope, the telescope itself was discovered to be faulty in 2010 and its replacement has never been installed.

Stephanie Nagata, director of the Office of Maunakea Management, summarized the two reports during the meeting — an environmental site assessment report and a hazardous material survey. Both reports, which sought to identify potential sources of hazardous materials on the Hoku Kea property and surrounding area, found that the demolition of the facility will not involve substantial amounts of hazardous materials.

However, Nagata said, the hazardous material survey did discover lead-containing paint throughout the facility, particularly on the observatory dome, although she added that there is a difference between lead-containing paint and lead-based paint, with the latter being less harmful.

Renee Ishisaka, a project engineer at engineering firm SSFM International, told the board that lead-containing paint is typically not removed before the demolition itself. However, she said, steps will be taken to prevent the dispersal of lead dust during the demolition itself and tests will be conducted post-demolition to determine how to safely dispose of the debris.

The board voted unanimously to recommend the two reports and forward them to UH President David Lassner for approval.

“I think, based on this, that the Hoku Kea site and its generator site are generally free of hazardous substances,” Nagata said.

The decommissioning of Hoku Kea is estimated to begin in 2023 and take about six months. The process is estimated to cost $1.3 million.


Nagata also briefly discussed a proposed plan to relocate the university’s teaching telescope to a site at Halepohaku, the mid-level facility about 9,200 feet up Maunakea. While the public comment period for that proposal has ended, Nagata said the testimony generated during that process is still being consolidated and will be properly discussed at a later date.

Email Michael Brestovansky at

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