Hawaii County is home to the most scientifically productive astronomy research complex in the world. On May 11, our illustrious Chamber President and Director of the UH Institute for Astronomy, Doug Simons gave the Economic Development Committee an update on the Mauna Kea Observatories (MKOs). He started with some facts.
- The replacement cost for assets on the mountain is over $1 billion
- Over 500 people are directly employed by the MKOs
- The combined annual operating budget is over $75 million
Community benefits, in addition to the money directly injected in the economy through wages and business contracts, include the following:
- $2 million per year invested in Hawaii County outreach and education
- Journey Through the Universe has reached over 100,000 students over its 20-year history
- Akamai college internships have been awarded to approximately 500 Hawaii County students over its 20-year history
- Maunakea Scholars has provided access to Mauna Kea Observatories for hundreds of students across the state
The big challenge going forward is the renewal of the lease to allow the MKOs to continue to operate. All MKOs are legally required to decommission and perform site restoration by December 31, 2033 if a new land authorization is not completed. This means the operational lifetimes of existing MKOs is about 5 years without a new land authorization, assuming a 6 year decommission and site restoration timeline. To complicate things further, the new Mauna Kea Stewardship and Oversight Authority was started this month on July 1, 2023 with a five year “co-managed” transition from the University of Hawaii. So in the same time frame that the new state agency is taking over control of Mauna Kea, the MKOs need to be assured of lease renewal in order to avoid having to make the decision to not invest any more funds and to start the removal of the telescopes from the mountain. We are talking about losing the most important astronomy center on earth and a huge part of our local economy. As Doug stated, the future of Hawaii astronomy lies in the hands of the local community.