City sued over plans to restore Natatorium

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
By Debra Barayuga
dbarayuga@starbulletin.com

A suit says repairs are set to begin without necessary state health permits

The city is violating state law by going ahead with restoration of the crumbling Waikiki Natatorium without the proper permits, according to a lawsuit filed yesterday in Circuit Court.

The complaint filed by the Kaimana Beach Coalition and Richard S. Bernstein lists the defendants as the city, outgoing Mayor Jeremy Harris and other city officials.

The group, which opposes restoration of the Natatorium, is asking the court to stop the city from doing any work until it obtains the proper permits for the altered project.

The plaintiffs claim that city officials are going ahead with plans that are substantially different than what they received permits for in 1998.

The suit claims city officials intend to implement a different plan that involves driving 90 concrete piles into the reef outside the Natatorium and replacing the concrete pool deck and ocean seawalls to create a noncirculating ornamental pool.

City spokeswoman Carol Costa said although officials have mentioned Nov. 29 as a possible “mobilization date” for construction, they have no exact starting date because they are waiting for materials to arrive from the mainland.

But, she said, mobilization does not mean “pile driving.”

City attorneys have not yet seen the complaint so they cannot respond, Costa said.

The complaint supplements one the group filed in 1999 seeking to halt the Natatorium’s restoration.

In 2000, the court granted an injunction as part of a settlement in which the city agreed not to construct, restore or repair the swimming pool unless it was necessary to protect the public’s health and safety or until they come up with a plan that meets state health requirements for swimming pools.

In May, the city closed the restrooms after a section on the pool deck collapsed and were told by two firms that work should be done to shore up the pool deck. City officials have argued that there is an immediate health and safety concern and delaying repairs could expose the city to lawsuits.

But James Bickerton, attorney for the coalition, questions why the sudden rush in the last month of Harris’ administration to drive 90 piles.

“We contend there is no danger as long as the Natatorium remains closed and there are adequate signs and fencing to keep people from wandering in or getting hit by a piece of rock,” he said. “We’re saying they’re using the claim of danger to basically try and avoid the injunction.”

The project design presented to the City Council for permit approval in 1998 is still unacceptable because it doesn’t comply with state health regulations, he said. The group plans to ask the court next week to enforce the injunction.