NASA to Conduct Environmental Impact Statement for Mauna Kea

Keck Observatory
NASA plans to build six 1.8-meter 'outrigger' telescope around the two Keck domes as part of the Keck interferometer project. The dots represent the new domes' eventual locations.
Courtesy NASA/JPL.
The long-delayed Outrigger Telescope project atop Hawaii's Mauna Kea is one step closer to completion. Last year the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) sued NASA to prevent the construction of the six 1.8-meter telescopes, which are designed to enhance the interferometry capabilities of the 10-meter twin Keck telescopes. OHA held that NASA was required to perform a rigorous Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to assess the what effects construction would have on the mountain. Doing so would have delayed the project for at least a year and added $1 million or more to the price tag.

A court ruled in July that NASA need not conduct a full EIS, but that it had to fix problems with its already completed, less rigorous Environmental Assessment (EA) of Mauna Kea. However, after months of deliberations, NASA chose to perform an EIS after all. The new study should be completed in fall 2004, and officials hope that construction will start shortly thereafter.

According to Carl Pilcher, NASA program scientist for the Keck Observatories, NASA saw two reasons for performing the more rigorous EIS: First, the results of the EA might have required an EIS anyway. But more importantly, "The Hawaiian people wanted an EIS. It's the right thing to do."

The Office of Hawaiian affairs has lauded NASA's decision, and the announcement to perform the EIS was made in conjunction with OHA at its headquarters.