The Conversation: Natatorium Follow-Up: Jim Bickerton

Hawaii Public Radio
Town Square: Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

 

Excerpt transcribed by the Kaimana Beach Coalition.

Beth-Ann Kozlovich: Maybe you remember the picture from last year – Governor Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Caldwell standing together at the Natatorium to announce their decision to replace the crumbling structure with a memorial beach. Many people thought the issue had been settled; then last week the National Trust placed the Natatorium on its list of national treasures. That stirred up a whole debate again and brought out one point on which all sides can agree: nothing can actually be decided until the Environmental Impact Statement comes out next year.

Jim Bickerton is here representing the Kaimana Beach Coalition. Nice to have you back.

Jim Bickerton: Good morning, Beth-Ann, thanks for having me.

BAK: So how much of a surprise was that announcement last week for all of you by the National Trust?

“People don’t realize that the National Trust is not a government agency – it’s a private organization, just like the Historic Hawaii Preservation Society.”

JB: Not really a big surprise, it’s just an extension of what they’ve been trying to do for a while. People don’t realize that the National Trust is not a government agency – it’s a private organization, just like the Historic Hawaii Preservation Society. They’re well-intended people with – their plan is to preserve things, we certainly understand people want to try to do that. But this is a mainland group and this is a homegrown solution that we have here that it looks like the community has really gotten behind. Right after you had the gentlemen from the National Trust on your show, the Star-Bulletin ran a poll – I think they had over 4,000 responses, which is very high, if not the highest level of response – and over 80% of the people [who] responded supported the solution that both the Mayor and the Governor have gotten behind.

And a lot of people don’t also appreciate that it’s a compromise solution – it is a memorial beach. I watched the Memorial Day service on television on Sunday and the beautiful arch was in the picture, the wall was in the picture, the great stone with the plaque, those were all in there – and they’re still gonna be there in the memorial beach. Instead of having a dead memorial, which is what we have now, we’ll have a living memorial that the community can use 365 days a year.

BAK: Their point is that it should also be a living memorial, but in the way it would be preserved, as it is right now. Don’t we really need to sort of wait it out and just see what happens with the EIS next year? Because their point seems to be, well, if you get in there and start disturbing a bunch of stuff you really don’t know what it is you’re going to do, and until that EIS is done, should we all just not be talking about this for a while?

JB: Well I think that’s a fair point. We should all wait for the EIS, but one of the things – you know, they call themselves restorationists, but what they really are is rebuilders. Because what people need to know is that the Natatorium was built with very outdated technology – it’s falling apart. And so to restore it requires it to be scraped right down to the seabed and built from the ground up again. And so it really isn’t about restoring something; it’s what are we gonna build there. What’s there now has to go away. Are we gonna build something that’s outdated, that isn’t healthy in an environment where people can fly in from all around the world with every virus and bacteria known to man, or are we gonna build something that has worked around the islands, which is a public beach park? That’s the question. We think we know the right answer, but we’re certainly looking forward to the city’s Environmental Impact Statement.

BAK: Jim, this is such an emotional issue, and it’s emotionally generational too, given the fact that it’s been around for most of my life and for a lot of people who say, enough already, get we just get a decision and do something – do you think that once we get that EIS we’re actually going to be at that point? And not where a lot of people perhaps thought we were last year with the decision?

“…as people become aware of how limited our beach resources are and how tough it’s going to be to get to Ala Moana Park when they build ten, twenty, thirty thousand units in Kaka‘ako, they’re really gonna cherish that open space on the beach and realize how valuable it is.”

JB: I think that the EIS is going to answer a lot of questions. I do think that we’ll be at that point. But I think that the emotions about this will continue for a long time to come. But it has changed over time. I mean, support for the current solution that the Mayor and the Governor are proposing is at its greatest level that it’s ever been. And so I think part of it is that as people become aware of how limited our beach resources are and how tough it’s going to be to get to Ala Moana Park when they build ten, twenty, thirty thousand units in Kaka‘ako, they’re really gonna cherish that open space on the beach and realize how valuable it is. And so I think – one thing I have great confidence in, this community – we do work things out in the end, and good solutions are found. What we’re saying is, this is the solution that’s already been found. It was through a task force, it was through debate, it was a compromise, and so really to come in and try to say, well it’s got to be this all-or-nothing solution that the rebuilders want, it goes against I think the way that we’ve solved our problems here.

BAK: In the meantime, over the summer there will be hearings; people will be able to weigh in. It’s not as if it’s either/or but it’s still in the business of gathering information.

JB: Yes, and I think in that regard I’d like to give a plug to our Web site, because we have lots of just objective, concrete information, old articles –

BAK: No pun intended?

JB: There you go. Concrete. It’s savekaimanabeach.org, and we’ve got archive materials going back many, many years. So people who are interested in the issue can bone up on it and give their input to these hearings.

BAK: Well part of that is what obviously both you and the Trust have been asking of people, [to] really do some homework, do some research, look at it – and if you can, get yourself down there too, and see what’s really there, because very often what’s in your memory isn’t necessarily what’s there in reality. And then try to compare some of those ideas. But once we have the EIS, there sort of is the feeling that maybe that will be the point. Given all the emotionalism, the opposite may be true too.

JB: Well, it’s – you know, I’ve been with this for over twenty years now, and I –

BAK: That’s why I’m asking you!

JB: – I have a hard time believing that we’ll ever come to a complete end to it. But we keep plugging away. I think information is the key, information to people is very key. And you just have to also look to the future and think about what we really need in this community. And that’s what I think is gonna drive it in the end – what does the community need? The environmental impacts are gonna be there no matter what you build. And there’s an environmental impact to doing nothing, because it’s crumbling into the sea. We just have to find out what they’re gonna be, weigh them, and make a good decision.

BAK: The community, though, is changing. And we’re watching more people move to Hawaii. There are a lot of suggestions – as we come closer to 2020 there will be far fewer people who were born and raised in Hawaii, and that changes sensitivity to what Hawaii may be all about as we move forward into the future. The idea of the beach versus the memorial, obviously very far away from the first World War, and the need for the beach. Do you think that is going to be, what’s going to be uppermost in people’s minds?

“People talk about, how much does it cost to build it? But how much does it cost to maintain going forward? We have beach parks all around this island because they are easy to maintain. They don’t cost the government a lot, they bring a lot of joy and recreation to people.”

JB: Well, I do think that serving the community is the most important thing. Remembering the past is a very important thing. That’s why the memorial’s incorporated into the beach idea. But you can’t take that whole hundred yard stretch of beach and devote it to something that can’t be used on a daily basis by the people. The other thing is the expense – we don’t talk about that. People talk about, how much does it cost to build it? But how much does it cost to maintain going forward? We have beach parks all around this island because they are easy to maintain. They don’t cost the government a lot, they bring a lot of joy and recreation to people. And so when you weigh that cost versus the high cost of maintaining a pool, a concrete pool in the middle of the ocean, against the benefits that it can bring, I think that type of comparison will drive the decision too.

BAK: Right. As we talk about with many things, that it’s not just getting it to a certain point, but how are you gonna keep it at that point as you move into the future? One thing is for sure – in our future we have a lot more discussion about the Natatorium whether we like it or not!

JB: I think I’ll be back next year!

BAK: Thanks very much, Jim. Jim Bickerton has been practicing law in Hawaii for more than 25 years and is a founding partner of the firm that bears his name. He represents the Kaimana Beach Coalition.