There will be no further construction work on Mauna Kea for new astronomical observatories, instead the existing ones will be decommissioned and rebuilt. This is the main decision reached by the University of Hawaii in cooperation with the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Initial plans involved the construction of a new, modern observatory on a newly commissioned site. Following heated protests from the local population, University of Hawaii representatives have decided to rethink their approach and consider older, outdated telescopes for decommissioning.
An Environmentally Sustainable Approach
Known as one of the least polluted US territories, the islands of Hawaii are reticent about giving in to the pressures of technology, even for the higher purpose of science. As soon as plans to build new observatories on the newly commissioned land came to public knowledge, the University of Hawaii was reminded of its Decommissioning Plan of 2010.
This plan will affect several obsolete telescopes, such as the CalTech Submilimeter Observatory, which is planned to shut down in September 2015. The decommissioning plan shall continue until 2018 and one of the reasons why it was overlooked in the modernization and rehabilitation efforts is that it will be quite expensive.
The Money Matter
Basic estimates show that the University of Hawaii will have to pay between 2 and 5 million dollars for the entire Decommissioning Plan. However, the Chancellor of the University, Donald Straney, claims that he, together with the entire staff of the university is committed to meet the requirements of the new development strategy at all costs.
There is more than dismantling old and obsolete technology involved in the Decommissioning Plan. Among other provisions, after clearing the site, each and every plot of land which will not be used to build new astronomical observatories shall be returned to the ownership of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
As an estimate timeline, the University of Hawaii expects to clear one quarter of its existing obsolete telescope by the end of the year. In the meantime, some construction works have been stopped due to the disputes arising between the university and the local community. The rehabilitation project, which already has secured funding amounting to 1.4 billion dollars, shall be resumed as soon as these issues are settled.
Image Source: Mauna Kea Observatory