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Archive of Prominent Section 106 Cases:
Hawaii: Construction of Telescopes at Mauna Kea Science Reserve

Agency: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Criterion for Council Involvement:

  • This project will adversely affect properties of religious and cultural significance to Native Hawaiian organizations (Criterion 4).

Recent Developments

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.

Mauna Kea observatories, Hawaii

Mauna Kea observatories, Hawaii
(Photo courtesy of Richard Wainscoat)

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 organizations.

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 educational resources.


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 Web site.)

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.

Policy Highlights

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

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