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Decommissioning plan approved for Hoku Kea

The decommissioning process for the University of Hawaii’s educational observatory on Maunakea could begin at the end of 2024, but officials hope to expedite the process.

The Maunakea Management Board met Tuesday to discuss the decommissioning of Hoku Kea. As part of the requirements for the planned construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, Hoku Kea is one of five telescopes slated for removal from the mountain.

The board voted to approve a draft environmental assessment and site decommissioning plan for the project. However, the board also noted that work might not start until December 2024 if amendments aren’t made to the scope of the project.

Doug Simons, who will become director of UH’s Institute for Astronomy in September, said the decommissioning project is joined at the hip to a related project — the construction of a new UH teaching telescope elsewhere on the island — and the two must be decoupled in order to speed up the removal of Hoku Kea.

“A couple of years ago, the board members wanted to ensure that the new teaching telescope would go forward, so we coupled it with the decommissioning project,” Simons said Thursday. “Because new funding would be required for the teaching telescope, we were concerned that it might not be given the attention the project needed otherwise.”

Because of the way the two projects are linked, the decommissioning of Hoku Kea cannot begin until the construction of the teaching telescope is completed, which, based on the current project timeline, will not happen until November 2024.

“We’ve had very clear messages from (UH-Hilo Chancellor Bonnie Irwin) that they have a strong inclination to decouple the two projects from each other,” Simons said. “We know Bonnie is very much in support of the teaching telescope, so we’re confident that it will happen regardless.”

Should the projects be separated, decommissioning could begin more than a year earlier, in August 2023.

“In order to get support for the new teaching telescope, we have got to show some movement on decommissioning,” Irwin said at Tuesday’s meeting. “And the faster we can move along that timeline … shows the skeptics that we’re serious about it, that these telescopes are going to come down.”

Simons said he is working on an amendment to the project plan that must ultimately be approved by the board and Irwin, but added it is very early in development.

However, Simons added that, if the two projects are to be decoupled, it must be done by Dec. 7 of this year or else risk further delays.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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