Judge blocks work on Natatorium

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Star-Bulletin

The mayor wanted work to proceed even though not all permits are in hand

A 10-day restraining order blocking work at the Waikiki War Memorial and Natatorium was imposed on the city by Circuit Judge Gail Nakatani today.

Work was scheduled to begin this week on Mayor Jeremy Harris’ $11.5 million plan to restore the 70-year-old structure.

City Council members are looking at a new compromise plan that might significantly reduce the scope of the natatorium project.

Attorney Jim Bickerton, representing the Kaimana Beach Coalition, argued that a special management area use permit issued by the Council requires the city to obtain all construction-related permits prior to start of work.

The city still needs a water certification from the state Health Department and a permit for underwater construction from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for two underwater groins.

Nakatani said Harris’ plan to proceed only with the land-based portion of the project “is unlawful in light of the fact that the SMA permit expressly provides that approval of all government agencies must be obtained prior to implementation.”

City attorney Tedson Koja countered that because the outstanding permits pertained to underwater construction, the city could proceed with construction of the facade and bleachers.

Bickerton said the temporary restraining order needs to be in place immediately because work on the project is imminent. Nakatani agreed with Bickerton on that point.

“Restored bleachers looking out into the open ocean for no apparent purpose conjures up a pretty odd and strange vision,” Nakatani said.

The restraining order against the city is good until July 10. On July 9, Nakatani will hear arguments on a preliminary injunction that would halt construction at least until the end of trial.

Nakatani said it is up to the Council to decide if partial construction complies with the permit, not Harris.

Bickerton echoed Nakatani’s comments. The TRO “puts the ball squarely in the City Council’s lap.”

Corporation Counsel David Arakawa, reacting to the decision, called it disappointing and noted that even opponents have no problem with construction of the arch, facade and public restrooms.

As for Nakatani’s opinion that the Council should look into the issue of partial construction, Arakawa said: “The Council has not revoked the permit so it stands. The Council, the majority of the Council is not objecting to restoration of the land-side park features.

At Honolulu Hale yesterday, the Council decided not to discuss a resolution seeking to revoke the special management area use permit for the natatorium.

City Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura said there is no urgency since Harris has promised to put off work on the pool until the Health Department comes up with rules governing saltwater pools.

Yoshimura — long an opponent of full restoration — said late yesterday that he is “trying to find a way to stop the (natatorium) pool from happening.”

Yoshimura added: “We’re working on something. But will it happen? I hope so.”

To date, only three of Yoshimura’s nine Council colleagues — Steve Holmes, Kim and Mufi Hannemann — have opposed full restoration. But that might change.

Councilman Duke Bainum, a key supporter of full restoration, said he’s taking a second look. “It’s clear to me that there are a lot of people who think full restoration of the pool is a mistake,” he said.

“I’m re-evaluating my position in light of the fact that this thing is being drawn out in the court system.”

The longer the project is hung up in the courts, Bainum said, the more likely the project will go over budget.

And Bainum has long stated he won’t support additional funding for full restoration.