FAIRBANKS -- The Air Force said it will delay closing the $290 million HAARP site near Gakona until next spring, while scientists hoping to keep it from being torn down argue that the Air Force should leave diagnostic equipment in place.
Deborah Lee James, secretary of the Air Force, wrote to Sen. Lisa Murkowski today that the agency will "defer irreversible dismantling of the transmitter site until May 2015."
The Air Force planned to close the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program for good last month, but stopped after scientists from the University of Alaska and other research institutions objected to the proposed destruction of the facility. The letter from the Air Force put a new deadline on the shutdown, allowing time for a new operator to be found for the ionospheric research effort.
"We will proceed with removal of government property not essential to operations and seek to reduce maintenance costs through additional storage of equipment and winterization," she said.
Bob McCoy, director of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said the news is encouraging, but it is important to consider not only the ability to keep the power plant and the antenna field in order, but also the diagnostic equipment.
He said that a delay in the "irreversible dismantling" should also include a delay in removing scientific instruments, as they will be needed if another institution steps in.
UA President Pat Gamble has said that the university supports continuation of the operation and is investigating options. Scientists from around the world signed a petition this spring asking the Department of Defense to "begin serious negotiations with other government agencies to find a sustainable model to ensure this unique and extremely valuable national resource is available for ionospheric research in the future."