Natatorium repair plan comes under criticism

Honolulu Advertiser
By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

Shoring up the crumbling War Memorial Natatorium will require placing 82 piles in the ground along the Waikiki shoreline, but a contractor will try to minimize the impact on neighbors, including the aquarium, city officials said yesterday.

Critics said the project could have a dangerous impact on the area’s reefs, animals and beaches and should be scrapped.

“We’re looking at ways to place the piles with a minimum of heavy driving,” said Tim Steinberger, director of the city Department of Design and Construction.

Alternatives could include pre-drilling holes beneath the natatorium’s long-closed swimming pool and letting the piles sink into place with a minimum of pounding, Steinberger said.

That would create a whole new set of environmental problems, said Rick Bernstein of the Save Kaimana Beach coalition, which has been fighting to have the natatorium torn down and returned to open beach space.

“The silt stirred up by the drilling and pounding will spill out of the pool and have a devastating effect on the reef and surrounding beaches,” Bernstein said.

The director of the Waikiki Aquarium also expressed concern that noise and vibration from the pile driving could be detrimental to its animals.

City Council members yesterday asked why the city is pushing ahead with the repair when both mayoral candidates have said they have no plans to finish restoring the natatorium’s pool, built in 1927 as a memorial to World War I veterans.

“I’m not trying to construct a swimming pool. I’m just trying to do some structural repairs,” Steinberger said.

“So you’re going to spend almost $6 million to do essentially nothing,” countered Councilwoman Barbara Marshall. “No access, no hope of ever getting the pool repaired.”

Repair to the natatorium was halted by a lawsuit in 1998, but city officials restarted work this year, citing the need for emergency safety repairs.

Bernstein said his group would seek a temporary restraining order as soon as work on the pool substructure begins, possibly early next month.

Reach Mike Leidemann at 525-5460 or mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.