Aquarium objects to pile driver proposal

Honolulu Advertiser
By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Driving reinforcement pilings into the reef below the crumbling Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium might cause serious vibrations that could damage the nearby Waikiki Aquarium and dangerously disrupt the environment of its rare fishes, according to the aquarium’s director.

“The effects of the vibrations and noise from pile driving on these animals could be very detrimental,” Dr. Andrew Rossiter said in written testimony to be presented to a City Council panel today.

“Fishes, especially, are very sensitive to even minute vibrations, and the shock waves emanating through the fossil reef foundation shared by the natatorium and the aquarium seem sure to cause extreme stress, or worse, to some of our animals. This is unacceptable.”

A section of the natatorium’s deck collapsed in May, and engineering studies found other parts of the aging structure at risk of falling apart.

The pool and decorative archway were built in 1927 to honor World War I veterans from Hawai’i.

The repairs are meant to shore up the deck and stabilize the pool’s seawalls, and plans call for driving more than 80 pilings into the interior of the pool area.

Rossiter is requesting that the project be halted “until a thorough investigation of its potential effects on the physical structure of our property has been carried out.”

He said the city never contacted the aquarium about the work, which is scheduled to begin within weeks. The aquarium is run by the University of Hawai’i, and Rossiter was named its director five months ago.

The aquarium would need at least a month to make preparations for protecting its inhabitants before any pile driving begins, according to Rossiter, who was formerly senior research scientist and deputy chief of the aquarium exhibition at Lake Biwa Museum in Kusatsu, Japan.

The City Council’s Budget Committee has requested an update on the natatorium project during a public meeting that begins at 9 a.m. today.

City managing director Ben Lee said he was surprised to learn of Rossiter’s worries about the aquarium.

“If there are legitimate concerns, then we can work it out, rather than just kind of shotgun it at a committee meeting,” Lee said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.

“He’s certainly welcome like everyone else to pick up the phone and say, ‘Ben, I’ve got these concerns here.’ ”

Lee said it might be possible to drill holes for the pilings so less force would be required to ram them into the reef.

Residents and community activists have debated for more than a decade over what should be done with the natatorium. Some City Council members oppose the emergency work because the structure’s overall future remains undecided.

But Lee said that the natatorium’s condition is dangerous and that repairs must be made as soon as possible to ensure no one is injured.

The city had planned to restore the natatorium, and spent $4 million in 1998 to repair its concrete bleachers and adjoining wall before a lawsuit by opponents of the restoration forced the work to stop.

The aquarium houses more than 1,200 animals that represent more than 400 species of marine life, including endangered monk seals and many rare fishes found only in Hawai’i.

Reach Johnny Brannon at jbrannon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.