The first observatory placed atop Mauna Kea will now be one of the first to come down, the University of Hawaii announced Tuesday.
UH Hilo plans to decommission the Hoku Kea observatory by 2018 — the same year that the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory is expected to be fully removed from the mountain.
The university’s announcement about Hoku Kea came just hours before the state attorney general and the Department of Land and Natural Resources jointly announced plans to seek an emergency rule that would possibly curtail some of the ongoing protests against construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.
Observatories atop Mauna Kea on the Big Island.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The proposed rule, to be considered on Friday by the Board of Land and Natural Resources, would prohibit anyone from possessing backpacks, tents, blankets or other “obvious camping paraphernalia” within a mile of the observatory access road. It would also restrict access to the same area from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.
“In recent weeks dozens of people have camped on the grounds or remained parked in cars for prolonged periods, either on or near the access road to Mauna Kea,” Attorney General Doug Chin said Tuesday in a press release. “Boulders and rock walls have been placed on the road. Invasive species have been introduced. Unauthorized toilets have been placed on the grounds. Individuals remaining in the area have reportedly caused visitors and workers to feel harassed.”
The proposed rule would impact not only protestors, but also limit mountain access for Native Hawaiian practitioners, said Kealoha Pisciotta, spokeswoman for the protest movement who is also a party to the lawsuits attempting to block TMT.
“What the governor is doing is vindictive,” Pisciotta said, adding that community members brought portable toilets for visitors and protestors alike to use because the restrooms at the visitor center are closed.
On June 24, protestors blocked TMT construction workers from accessing the site, in part by placing rocks and boulders in the road. Construction has yet to resume, and UH has closed public access to the road. In the meantime, Gov. David Ige has said the state will do “whatever is necessary to ensure lawful access.”
“We expect there to be more types of challenges, good and bad days, and we are in this for the long run,” Ige said in a press release June 26. “We value TMT and the contributions of science and technology to our society, and we continue our support of the project’s right to proceed.”
The decision to remove the UH Hilo educational telescope is in line with Ige’s statement earlier this spring that 25 percent of telescopes on the mountain should be decommissioned before the TMT is slated to begin operations in 2024.
Hoku Kea is the smallest and oldest observatory on Mauna Kea. The Air Force erected the observatory for a 24-inch telescope on in 1968, a year after the University of Hawaii broke ground on its 2.2-meter telescope — the first major observatory constructed on the mountain.
Private security officers guard the TMT construction area.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Unlike most of the observatories atop Mauna Kea, Hoku Kea does not have construction underground, which should make its removal easier and less expensive than some of the other telescopes.
Hoku Kea is not currently operational. The observatory was transferred to UH Hilo in the 1990s for use as an educational telescope. In 2008, the original 24-inch telescope was removed from the observatory to make way for an upgraded 36-inch telescope.
That 36-inch or 0.9-meter telescope proved faulty, and the company that manufactured it went out of business soon after — making it impossible to recoup the spent funds, said UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl.
This spring, UH Hilo was still working to raise the funds necessary to make the telescope operational again.
UH is expected to work with the observatories to identify a third observatory for decommissioning, to meet Ige’s 25 percent reduction target.
But Pisciotta said UH and the state should hold off on making any decisions regarding telescopes atop Mauna Kea until after the Hawaii Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the TMT permit in August.
“The state is not doing its duty to protect the rights and interests of the people of Hawaii,” Pisciotta said.
The Board of Land and Natural Resources will consider the emergency rule “no earlier than 1 p.m.” at its regularly scheduled meeting Friday at 1151 Punchbowl St. in Honolulu.
Once the Caltech and UH Hilo observatories are decommissioned, there will be no new observatories built on the sites, according to the UH press release.
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