Prominent Section 106 Cases:
Construction of Telescopes at Mauna Kea Science Reserve
Agency: National Aeronautics and Space
Criterion for Council Involvement:
- This project will adversely affect properties of religious and
cultural significance to Native Hawaiian organizations (Criterion
During the first week of February 2001, the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration (NASA) conducted a series of Section 106 consultation
meetings and public open houses on its plans to provide funding for the
construction of four, perhaps ultimately six, small telescopes at the W.
M. Keck Observatory near the summit of the dormant volcano Mauna Kea on
the Island of Hawaii.
(Photo courtesy of Richard
More than 200 people attended the two open houses, which were
designed to provide Native Hawaiian organizations, local groups and
communities, and the general public with information on NASA’s plans for
the new telescopes, and seek comments and guidance on impacts to historic
and cultural properties. Section 106 consultation meetings also were held
with the Council, the Hawaii State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO),
the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, and several Native Hawaiian
At these meetings and open houses, NASA solicited guidance on whether
proposed educational mitigation measures are in the public interest and
how the Native Hawaiian community could benefit best from NASA’s extensive
The two existing large telescopes at the Keck observatory are the most
powerful telescopes in the world and play a primary role in NASA’s Origins
Program, which studies how stars and planets evolve and whether life may
exist on other worlds. The observatory is run by the California
Association for Research in Astronomy, a consortium of universities, and
is located within the Mauna Kea Science Reserve, which is owned by the
State of Hawaii and leased to the University of Hawaii.
The Mauna Kea Science Reserve is home to several observatory facilities
and a total of 13 telescopes. (For more information on the Mauna Kea
Science Reserve, visit the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy Mauna Kea observatories
Mauna Kea contains numerous historic properties, ranging from a
National Historic Landmark prehistoric stone adze quarry to natural
landscape features associated with Native Hawaiian cultural traditions.
NASA has concurred with the determination of the Hawaii SHPO that the
summit of Mauna Kea is eligible for inclusion in the National Register of
Historic Places as an historic district, and that the cinder cone on which
the new telescopes would be placed is a part of another historic property
eligible for the Register.
The SHPO has stated that the historic district “encompasses a
sufficient concentration of historic properties (i.e., shrines, burials,
and culturally significant landscape features) that are historically,
culturally, and visually linked within the context of their setting and
environment.” Even with the new telescopes added, the area occupied by all
of the Keck telescopes and associated facilities will be only a small
portion of the Mauna Kea summit region.
In consultation with the SHPO, NASA has determined that construction of
the telescopes would adversely affect the historic properties through
additional disturbance to the structural and visual integrity of the
summit. In September 2000, the Council accepted NASA’s invitation to
participate in the consultation process in order to assist NASA in meeting
the requirements of Section 106.
The summit of Mauna Kea is an ideal place to locate telescopes. At the
same time, the summit is of extreme importance to the cultural identity of
Native Hawaiians. Recognizing this, NASA is proposing a package of
creative mitigation measures, including the development of new space
science educational and cultural outreach programs for Native Hawaiians of
all ages. Such “off-site” mitigation can be effective in addressing
adverse effects to historic properties.
This project offers an interesting opportunity to examine how
meaningful off-site mitigation can be in connection with properties of
traditional religious and cultural significance.
Staff contact: Tom McCulloch
Posted March 21, 2001