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California Institute of Technology (Caltech) Submillimeter Observatory
California Institute of Technology (Caltech) Submillimeter Observatory

The decommissioning of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) Submillimeter Observatory (CSO) on University of Hawaiʻi-managed lands on Maunakea will be completed by the end of 2022, according to a February 10 news release from CSO. The Hawaiʻi State Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) unanimously approved a conservation district use permit (CDUP) on January 14, 2022 for the removal and site restoration of the CSO observatory.

CSO is one of two Maunakea telescopes currently in the final stages of the decommissioning process, established in the Maunakea Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP). The UH Hilo Hōkū Kea Telescope is on track to be decommissioned in 2023.

“The decommissioning of these first two observatories will be milestones in the stewardship of the mauna,” said Greg Chun, executive director of the UH Hilo Center for Maunakea Stewardship (CMS). “This is a very thorough process as a lot of work went into the development of the CMP more than a decade ago, which guides our management of Maunakea.”

CMS is responsible for administering the BLNR-approved CMP along with the new Maunakea Master Plan, approved by the UH Board of Regents in January 2022, and the administrative rules.

The new Master Plan set a limit of nine operating astronomy facilities on Maunakea by 2033. Five of the 14 astronomy sites will be closed permanently to astronomy development once the existing facilities there have been decommissioned.

More broadly, the Master Plan serves as a framework for aligning land-use decisions consistent with UH’s mission and purpose. The administrative rules cover public and commercial activities.

The CMP addresses activities like cultural, natural, and scientific resource protection, education and outreach, permitting and compliance, infrastructure and maintenance, construction activities, operations, and monitoring. The CMP has four sub-plans—public access, cultural resources management, natural resources management and observatory decommissioning that further specify those activities. According to the decommissioning sub-plan, the Maunakea Observatories are responsible for the cost of decommissioning.

The CDUP for CSO sets the terms and conditions required for decommissioning. As part of the process, CSO has completed an archeological assessment, a cultural setting analysis, a hydrogeological evaluation, a biological inventory, a biological setting analysis, a traffic analysis and an asbestos/lead paint/mold survey.

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