Decommissioning of Hawaii mountain observatory on schedule

HILO — The decommissioning process for one of the Mauna Kea telescopes to be removed in the coming decade remains on schedule.

The Maunakea Management Board approved environmental assessments for the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory last month, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Sunday.

The observatory is one of five telescopes scheduled to be dismantled in exchange for permitting the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island.

Demonstrators blocked access to the summit of Mauna Kea to prevent construction of the giant telescope from July through December. Demonstrators said the project could damage land considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians.

The observatory remains on schedule to be removed by the end of 2021, said Doug Simons, a management board member.

“Logically, you’d expect the process to be faster, but this is the first one of these we’ve done,” Simons said. “You’ve got to make sure you get it right, and review the process.”

An archaeological assessment, a biological inventory and assessment and a hydrogeological and geological evaluation were approved for the observatory without controversy, Simons said.

The archaeological and geological studies found the decommissioning process will cause next to no impacts to the archaeological and geological resources of the area.

The biological assessment predicted the decommissioning will necessarily disturb local mosses, lichens and other plants, but the species are too sparse at the summit for disturbances to threaten them.

The observatory decommissioning process involves a full site restoration including removing the structure, filling its foundation and restoring the terrain to its original topography, Simons said.

“The idea would be that, by the end of next year, you wouldn’t even know there was a telescope here at all,” he said.

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