Harris, Hannemann spar over Natatorium

Honolulu Advertiser
By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer

The long fight over the crumbling Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium is triggering a mayoral showdown.

Mayor Jeremy Harris’ administration intends to move ahead with a plan to shore up the sagging structure, but Mayor-elect Mufi Hannemann said he would immediately cancel the work after being sworn into office next month.

“We’re talking about millions of taxpayer dollars that are going to be wastefully put out there when in fact the next mayor does not have any intention to go forward with that,” Hannemann said.

He said he hopes to tear down the structure’s pool and deck, but preserve its unique archway and public restrooms.

“This is what I believe the taxpayers want, this is what I know the majority of the City Council will support, and obviously this is what my preference is,” he said.

Harris was not immediately available, but city Managing Director Ben Lee said the work must begin soon, because the structure is at risk of collapsing. The plan includes driving more than 80 pilings into the reef below the Natatorium.

“We’re going forward with the repairs so we don’t endanger the health and safety of our residents and the general public,” Lee said. “If we don’t move forward, we’re subject to liability, and I don’t think that would be responsible. The responsible thing to do is stabilize the structure so it’s safe.”

Hannemann can evaluate the situation after he is sworn in next month, and consider the consequences of not making the repairs, Lee said.

Meanwhile, the director of the nearby Waikiki Aquarium said he remains very concerned that the pile-driving would cause serious problems for the aquarium’s collection of rare fish.

Dr. Andrew Rossiter said city officials had assured him in a meeting last week that the work would not begin if Hannemann made it clear he did not sanction it.

“They stated unequivocally that if Mayor-elect Hannemann indicated he would stop the project when he came into office, they would not pursue it any further from the time he said so, which means they wouldn’t go ahead with anything,” Rossiter said.

City spokeswoman Carol Costa could not confirm that, but said officials had agreed to halt the work immediately if it disrupts the fish, and to not resume it until the aquarium had moved any fish endangered by the work.

Rossiter said many fish and other creatures are extremely sensitive to vibrations, and that the pile-driving could also cause problems for the aquarium structure.

“This is a resource for the entire community, and to jeopardize it for the sake of political pride is, I think, rather foolish,” he said. “When one person says go for it, and another says it’s going to stop in three weeks, I honestly don’t understand it. It seems completely illogical.”

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