All quiet on the CSO decommissioning front

  • Tribune-Herald file photo The removal of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory could begin in February.

A public meeting about the decommissioning of a Maunakea telescope went quietly on Tuesday — perhaps too quietly for some participants.

After the draft environmental assessment for the decommissioning of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory was opened for public comment on Sept. 8, a trio of public meetings was scheduled for this week. The first, which took place Tuesday, had minimal engagement, with only four questions submitted.

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The meeting began with a presentation by Caltech representatives summarizing the findings of the environmental assessment and how the planned removal of CSO will go.

As outlined in the plan, Caltech intends to wholly clear the CSO site and return it to an undisturbed state, which would cost Caltech a little over $4 million.

Jim Hayes, president of Planning Solutions Inc., which was consultant for the environmental assessment, said Caltech will hire an archaeological and cultural monitor, vetted by the state Historic Preservation Division, to observe the process and ensure that no cultural sites are disturbed throughout the project.

Construction could begin by February 2022, and would take only a few months. Hayes said the entire process will involve approximately 70 truck loads of material taken down the mountain, with about 36 vehicle trips per day throughout the project.

Some closures of the Maunakea Access Road are expected when a crane is transported up and down the mountain, but Hayes said those closures will be brief and will take place during off-peak hours to cause as little disruption as possible.

CSO is one of five summit observatories slated for decommissioning as part of the terms for the planned eventual construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Because of the contentious nature of the TMT, and the cultural significance of the Maunakea summit for many Native Hawaiians, public meetings about the observatories often become prickly — and Tuesday’s was no exception.

Multiple attendees voiced confusion and frustration that the online meeting, conducted through Zoom, only allowed attendees to submit questions via text messages.

“I thought Caltech was going to ‘be the standard’ in the spirit of excellence,” wrote one attendee, Manuel Kuloloia, during the meeting. “I am not pleased you did not allow verbal testimony and questions. This is not ‘meaningful participation,’ but rather the same old ‘only written comments sent via email or postal delivery will be accepted.’”

Meeting moderators said the meetings will only allow text-only participation as a matter of better maintaining a public record of the event. However, the news releases announcing the meetings did not specify this.

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The remaining two meetings about the decommissioning will take place today at 4:30 p.m. and Thursday at 6 p.m. A link to the meetings will be available at tinyurl.com/wb94by8.

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

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