U.S. Space Forces Indo-Pacific News

Phase 2 excavation contract awarded, remediation continues at Haleakalā

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  • By U.S. Space Forces Indo-Pacific
  • U.S. Space Forces Indo-Pacific
Lt. Col. Phillip Wagenbach, 15th Space Surveillance Squadron commander, hosted a community forum at the University of Hawaii Maui College on April 26 to provide an update on the current status of remediation efforts at the Maui Space Surveillance Complex.

The actions are in response to a lightning strike which caused an equipment malfunction at the MSSC and released about 700 gallons of fuel atop Haleakalā.

The forum drew concerned community members, who posed questions regarding steps already taken and what work remains.

Wagenbach re-emphasized that the Air Force remains fully committed to clean up and recovery efforts at the Maui Space Surveillance Complex and will continue to maintain transparency as the remediation steps to safely restore the sacred grounds at Haleakalā continue.

“We needed to be better, and we weren’t” Wagenbach said. “We will determine how we can be better to prevent a re-occurrence of this type of accident.”

Wagenbach shared that as recovery efforts continue at the site, a contract for phase 2 of the cleanup was recently awarded to GSI Pacific, a native Hawaiian-owned company based in Honolulu, Hawaii. Once a work plan is approved by the Hawaii Department of Health, Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response Office, soil samples will be collected at depths of 40, 80 and 100 feet. Sampling at these depths will help build an underground “topographical” map of fuel contamination depth and breadth, and the data will be used to guide the phase 3 remediation plans.

“Phase 2 data will provide a more comprehensive understanding of the underlying geology, as well as the extent of contamination, and will help the team determine what is feasible and practicable for the site for the phase 3, which includes implementation of the remediation plan,” he said.

Remediation techniques being considered include using microbes that would break down the fuel, soil vapor extraction or further excavation.

“We’re going to be very deliberate, we’re going to be very thoughtful and mindful how we proceed, and do it in a way that is not going to send the situation in a worse direction than it already is,” he said.

“As we continue with the efforts, we will continue to hold these meetings because we want to ensure we take into consideration the community’s desires, and earn your trust,” Wagenbach said to those in attendance. “We are here to listen to your concerns and answer your questions directly and honestly, with full transparency.”

Extensive weather delays postponed phase 1, but Wagenbach assured the audience that work is ongoing, and all actions and considerations have been meticulously planned and coordinated with multiple local, state and federal agencies throughout.

“Haleakalā is a sacred space, we have to do our part to take care of the land,” he said. “We will continue to do that at each step of the recovery process.”

Planning is also underway to replace the generator with a smaller, more efficient one, minimizing fuel storage requirements. Part of that discussion is the addition of a tertiary containment system to improve safety and prevent a future mishap.

The telescopes at the MSSC atop Haleakalā are used for research as well as tracking and monitoring satellites, ensuring the safety of the nation's most critical strategic assets. At more than 10,000 feet elevation, the location atop Haleakalā provides some of the best astronomical viewing conditions on Earth.