Would Kaimana Beach Disappear With the Waikiki Natatorium?

Civil Beat
By Sophie Cocke

Kaimana Beach, also known as Sans Souci Beach, is a small haven for locals along the Waikiki shoreline, an international tourist destination that attracts several million tourists annually.

Maybe that’s because visitors strolling along the beachwalk toward Diamond Head run up against a foreboding concrete structure filled with rebar and decorated with “Danger Keep Out” signs.

It’s the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium. And it’s enough to make a tourist turn back before they reach Kaimana on the other side.

As the debate over what to do with the decaying structure flares back up, so has the question of what will happen to Kaimana Beach if the cavernous saltwater swimming pool with arena seating, that has remained closed and padlocked for more than three decades, is torn down.

“People say poor Kaimana Beach will vanish if you take it down,” said Jim Bickerton, an attorney for the Kaimana Beach Coalition, which is pushing for the creation of a public beach. “Nobody is proposing taking it down and letting nature take its course.”

Beach Would Quickly Erode

Indeed, without the Natatorium, there would be no beach.

“I don’t think there is any delusion about it,” said Jim Anderson, treasurer of the Friends of the Natatorium, which favors restoring the Natatorium. “If you could join the Star Wars coalition and press a button and make the Natatorium disappear, Kaimana Beach would disappear. There is no question about it.”

The structure that jets out into the ocean is what created the small crescent beach, causing sand to accumulate on its east side. That beach will quickly erode if the Natatorium is demolished, according to studies.

But this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a plan to keep the beach, and create a new one where the Natatorium currently sits.

If Kaimana Beach is to continue to exist, a groin that jets out perpendicular to the shoreline and supports the Natatorium would have to remain, and another groin to the west would have to be constructed to make a new beach where the pool used to rest, according to studies conducted by Waimanalo-based Sea Engineering.

The cost of the plan, including constructing a new groin and trucking in sand, would be about $5.2 million, or $110 per square foot of new beach, according to the report. Ongoing maintenance costs would range from $25,000 to $50,000 a year.

A vision of what the beach could be, based on engineering descriptions.

While not the most natural of beaches, the string of beaches along Waikiki is largely engineered. Draining of wetlands, shoreline development and seawalls have largely destroyed the wide beach that used to exist, according to a report by the University of Hawaii’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. The beaches, which continue to erode and narrow, have had to be continually replenished by imported sand.

While even opponents of the plan to remove the memorial say that the groins can maintain a beach, the decades-old debate about what do do with the Natatorium isn’t set to die down anytime soon.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie indicated last month that he would take back control of the Natatorium, a state property that’s operated by the city. He’s considering filling in the swimming pool and building a volleyball court.

The city, based on recommendations of a 17-member community task force in 2009, had been moving to tear down the Natatorium.

The governor’s plan outraged supporters of removing the structure, such as the Kaimana Beach Coalition, and set the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga over what do with the memorial to World War I veterans.

Abercrombie is likely to make a decision on whether to issue an executive order that gives the state control of the memorial before next year’s legislative session starts in January. If he does, it would be the fifth time in 80 years that a governor has revoked the city’s management of the Natatorium, according to information from the Historic Hawaii Foundation.

DISCUSSION: Do you think that the engineered beaches are a good idea?

Do not be misled by vested interests who want to “restore the Natatorium to it’s original splendor” and then convert the dysfunctional Monument into a privatized tourist destination. This would close off parking and thus beach access to Kaimana Beach and the adjoining park area. The public loss of access to a precious recreational resource for the profit of a few promoters, contractors, and engineers is unspeakable. It would be the final concession to the tourist industry.

With proper groins (leaving and enhancing the Diamond Head and Ewa walls of the existing Natatorium swimming pool), Kaimana Beach will be safe from erosion when a new Memorial Beach is built at the site of the existing Natatorium. Kaimana Beach will remain the same great beach it has always been.

The Natatorium Task Force studied this issue thoroughly for five months and voted to remove the structure and create a beach. The principal reason for their decision was financial. It would cost about $15 million for a new beach compared to $60 million for the demolition and rebuilding the Natatorium which would be necessary because of its advanced state of deterioration. Take the temptation of a 2,500 seat stadium-by-the-sea out of the equation. This precious sliver of oceanfront real estate must remain free of commercialization and accessible to all who enjoy and appreciate the value of being able to access, swim and recreate at the beach and in the park. By removing the decaying structure the area will be reborn to what nature intended it to be, a living beach reconnected to the ocean.

Finally, the Mayor and the Governor suspended the nearly completed Memorial Beach Environmental Impact Statement that we as tax payers paid $750,000 for. The EIS would have proven that the existing Natatorium site could make a viable beach. Call Governor Abercrombie and Mayor Carlisle and ask them nicely why they stopped the study. Why was this nearly completed study stopped, thus canceling the option of a Memorial Beach from the discussion? We say Save Kaimana Beach and create a new living monument, a new Memorial Beach.

Rick Bernstein
Kaimana Beach Coalition
Natatorium Task Force member