Mauna Kea Observatories begin to be decommissioned as the University of Hawaii meets with the Department of Land and Natural Resources to pledge a new, better approach.
Following protests in the previous months about the construction of a new observatory on Mauna Kea, making use of yet another commissioned site instead of the already existing ones, the University of Hawaii decided to improve their approach.
Since 2010 there is already a Decommissioning Plan for the Mauna Kea Observatories. It has been forgotten somewhat, but now, University officials and the Department of Land and Natural Resources are set on turning it into a legally binding agreement.
Firstly, the Pandora’s Box Thirty Meter Telescope is bound to be the last observatory site built on the newly commissioned ground. If other astronomy sites will be constructed on Mauna Kea, they have to be within the limits of already existing observatory sites.
Also, a number of other observatories found on Mauna Kea and that have pioneered their respective fields but are now close to obsolete will be closing down, paving the way for new technologies and fields of research.
For instance, the CalTech Submillimeter Observatory was announced to be closing its operations by September 2015. The decommissioning strategy of the university regarding other observatories is expected to be completed by 2018.
Financially, this might put a strain on the University’s budget. It is estimated that the costs of decommissioning one telescope of those currently existing in the Mauna Kea astronomy sites is between 2 and 5 million dollars. Nonetheless, Donald Straney, University of Hawaii Chancellor is committed to implementing the new strategy.
The Governor of Hawaii himself took position in the small ensuing conflict between the Department of Natural Land Resources and the University of Hawaii, urging for more attention and carefulness for the mountain as natural heritage of the community.
Other provisions of the Decommissioning Plan are envisaging the return of sites that are not used for research in astronomy in the property of the Department of Natural Land Service are they are integrated in the wider Mauna Kea Science Reserve.
Overall, the University officials are hopeful that 25 percent of the observatories existing on Mauna Kea will be removed by the end of 2015. Other sites need restoration, while the Thirty Meter Telescope awaits resuming of construction.
So far, it is reported that the project received a 1.4 billion dollars funding infusion. Yet, the construction is momentarily ceased until the disputes between the community, the university and the state officials is settled.
Image Source: summitpost.org