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Hoku Kea telescope
Hōkū Keʻa Observatory was located on the southeast side of the summit

A historic milestone on the summit of Maunakea—the first observatory on the summit has been completely removed and the site restored. The decommissioning of the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo’s Hōkū Keʻa Observatory was completed in May 2024, and the area will be monitored over the next three years to assess species population and diversity.

Crane moving the dome of Hoku Kea observatory
Deconstruction phase

Once the decommissioning of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO) is completed later this year, UH will have honored the commitment made to the UH Board of Regents in 2023 to remove two telescopes before the Maunakea Stewardship and Oversight Authority (MKSOA) assumes full management of the summit lands by July 1, 2028. The UH Hilo Center for Maunakea Stewardship (CMS) jointly manages Maunakea with MKSOA and is overseeing both decommissioning projects.

“Maunakea warrants the highest levels of stewardship, and we remain steadfast in our collaborative efforts to honor and protect the cultural and environmental significance of this ʻāina,” said UH Hilo Chancellor Bonnie Irwin. “The removal of Hōkū Keʻa reflects the university’s ongoing pledge to reduce the presence of telescopes on Maunakea.”

Management plan guided process

Restored land where the observatory stood
Construction crews also completed the restoration of the site

The decommissioning work began in April and cost approximately $1 million. The deconstruction of two buildings and the associated infrastructure and site restoration were done in accordance with the decommissioning process required by the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan.

“The process to remove Hōkū Keʻa and CSO is being done in a way that is pono to this special place as the construction crews received training on Maunakea’s history, cultural significance, environmental and cultural resources, and health and safety,” said CMS Executive Director Greg Chun. “A ceremony was conducted prior to the deconstruction phase and will be conducted again at the project’s conclusion and restoration phase.”

Prayers and Native Hawaiian protocol opened and closed each work day. Hawaiʻi Island resident Karl Halemano oversaw both construction and cultural monitoring on site throughout the decommissioning. Morning protocol led by Halemano included E Ala Ē, a chant that welcomes the day.

“We would go up to the site and we would have a pule, oli mele or just oli and we would start our day so that way we can move forward with a sense of spirituality, the importance of the work we’re doing up there,” Halemano said.

It took 6 dump trucks and 9 trailer loads to remove the debris after the structures were taken down. Fill that had been stored at the summit from when the observatories were first built was used for the site restoration.

Extensive outreach

People at the site of Hoku Kea
CMS employees joined crews at a special ceremony marking the completion of the decommissioning of Hōkū Keʻa

CMS received approval for the Conservation District Use Application for the project from the Hawaiʻi Board of Land and Natural Resources in 2023.

A final environmental assessment in June 2022 found that the project would have no significant adverse environmental impacts.

Preparation of the assessment included 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); and direct outreach to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs along with other native Hawaiian organizations and stakeholders.

CSO decommissioning progress

Decommissioning of CSO is scheduled to be completed by fall 2024. The CSO building and telescope have already been removed, and crews are now working to remove the concrete foundations, pavement, underground utilities and cesspool.

Ti leaf rope where Hoku Kea used to be

Hōkū Keʻa history

Located on the southeastern slope of the summit, the Hōkū Keʻa Observatory served as a cornerstone in training UH astronomy students for decades. It 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 and transferred to UH Hilo in 2003.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_masonry_media_grid css=”” grid_id=”vc_gid:1717229785776-b70855a8-6f4d-6″ include=”175912,198709,198711,198712,198713,198714,198717,198715,198716″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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