Decommissioning to begin on UH Hilo’s Hōkū Keʻa Observatory

The process includes removal of the observatory building, generator building and telecommunications and electrical infrastructure, and the restoration of the site that is consistent with the area.

Hōkū Ke‘a Observatory pictured atop Maunakea in the snow.
UH Hilo’s Hōkū Keʻa Observatory (far left) is located in the 528-acre astronomy precinct on the summit of Maunakea. (Archive photo)

The decommissioning of the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo’s Hōkū Keʻa Observatory on the summit of Maunakea is set to begin in March and take about five months to complete. The decommissioning includes the removal of the observatory building, generator building and telecommunications and electrical infrastructure, and the restoration of the site that is consistent with the area.

The decommissioning process is required under the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan.

Greg Chun
Greg Chun

“We are diligently following the steps outlined in the [plan] and the very detailed decommissioning subplan and are very pleased to be in the final stages,” says Greg Chun, director of UH Hilo’s Center for Maunakea Stewardship. “We are approaching this process with the utmost respect for this precious wahi pana and remain committed to transparency, environmental responsibility and the preservation of our revered mauna.”

The construction crews working on the project will go through cultural training, mandated by the management plan, that covers Maunakea’s history and cultural significance. Daily prayers and Native Hawaiian protocol will precede all work during the deconstruction and site restoration phases.

Hōkū Keʻa observatory

Located on the southeastern side of the 528-acre astronomy precinct on the summit, the Hōkū Keʻa site was built by the U.S. Air Force in 1968 and was one of the first observatories on Maunakea before it was given to UH in 1970. The observatory was transferred to UH Hilo in 2003 and became an important educational facility for astronomy students. In April 2023, the Hawaiʻi Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the Conservation District Use Application submitted by the Center for Maunakea Stewardship for the decommissioning of Hōkū Keʻa.

A final environmental assessment in June 2022 found that the project will have no significant adverse environmental impacts. Preparation of the assessment included extensive consultation and outreach with the Native Hawaiian community through the preparation of a cultural impact assessment; meetings with Kahu Kū Mauna (Guardians of the Mountain), a volunteer community-based council whose members are from the native Hawaiian community; and an invitation to participate in the process published in the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ Ka Wai Ola newsletter and direct outreach to native Hawaiian organizations and stakeholders.

The UH Board of Regents reaffirmed UH’s commitment in August 2023 to complete the decommissioning of two telescopes before the new Maunakea Stewardship and Oversight Authority assumes management responsibilities of Maunakea from the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources on or before July 1, 2028. The deconstruction and site restoration of the California Institute of Technology Submillimeter Observatory is scheduled to be completed by fall of 2024.

UH is working with the oversight authority, created in 2022 by the state legislature, to transfer its leases, conservation district use permits, and an easement for lands on Maunakea to the Maunakea Stewardship and Oversight Authority.

UH System News

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