On December 11, 2017 Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell held a press conference to update the press and public on the state of the Natatorium’s EIS process as well as the full set of alternatives that will be considered in the EIS to date. The following is a transcription of the video as provided by Civil Beat. Transcription provided by the Kaimana Beach Coalition.
Images of the alternatives as well as a summary of their costs can be viewed in the article provided by KHON.
Kirk Caldwell: I want to thank everyone for gathering here in a really beautiful part of Waikiki on a beautiful day, the day after the marathon. You had twenty eight thousand people over here yesterday finish and finishing the marathon in front of our Natatorium. The honors, those who served and gave their last full measure devotion in World War I, a war that started in 1914 and ended in 1918, it’s going to [be a] one hundred year anniversary next year. And this memorial as you can see I believe does not show the respect that should be given to those who served and gave their last full measure [of] devotion has been neglected for decades and decades and decades. And [while I] was a managing director with Mayor Hanneman I was given the task of putting together a group of people comprised of veterans and others about what do we do with the Natatorium. And many other Mayors have been faced with the issue of what do we do with the Natatorium. We have not backed away since I’ve been Mayor; I’m proceeding with our EIS, Environmental Impact Statement, that needs to be done for a lot of different reasons.
One, the historic value of this structure, the fact that it sits right on the ocean in the heart of Waikiki at the foot of Diamond Head. An EIS is something that is important because you get the input from the community and we address the various impacts both positive and negative on any of the alternatives that we may take. But we have not stopped. There’s not been a lot of press, a lot of talk publicly, but there’s been a lot of work by different folks to move this process along and I know from time to time we see letters to the editor where people are complaining that you know, typical government nothing is happening and we just don’t want to go and have lawsuits and challenges, we want to go and make sure we’ve done the right thing. We don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the Superferry and say let’s do the EIS after the ships start sailing. Let’s address these issues, let’s find out what the problems are, and let’s follow the proper course to show respect for our veterans and for those who gave their last full measure of devotion in World War I. And whatever happens here it will be developed around those who gave their last full measure of devotion.
I wanted to run through various alternatives that we have and that are looking at. As you know after the Task Force met when I was Managing Director the recommendation was to move the arches mauka a bit, remove the pool, and make it a beach. And there’s much demand for more beaches along this south shore and particularly here in Waikiki, God our beaches are eroding! You go down to Kuhio Beach, [it] looks about like [the] lost continent of Atlantis, you have a sidewalk showing up from the Waikiki Tavern. You go down to the Fort DeRussy side and right now at least, a lot of coral rocks and very little sand as you enter the water along the whole beach. But we have a beautiful beach here at Kaimana and it’s one of the few beaches I believe on this island on the south shore that our local folks go to. In a place on any given day it has about 130,000 visitors but you go here I used to come down to see Kaimana – and Rocky – and every time I came here I’d see friends who would say hi and just good old local folks who wanted to come close to where they live and feel like they’re with other local folks and we want that to be this side of the park and to make it a positive experience for everyone involved. So we’re looking at various alternatives – remember, initially we’re looking at a beach alternative only, but we are required by the process to look at all kinds of alternatives.
So it’s – Robert each one, is this alternative one? Do we have one for each of the alternatives? OK. So alternative one is a closed pool system. In other words it’s kind of what Mayor Harris was talking about when he was Mayor. Remember, he wanted to move forward with a closed pool. Kind of like swimming in where I live in Manoa at the district park, in their pool. [It’d] be saltwater, but totally enclosed. And the Department of Health came up with all kinds of rules that have to be followed to make sure it’s safe for the public. And it would revolve in regard a reconstruction and renovation of the entire project. It’s not like you just patch a couple pukas. Remember how Rocky had swum in and out with Kaimana and get stuck in there. There’s big pukas! Yes, there were water safety folks, one very large one, one smaller one, a couple sharks [swimming] inside there, honu were in there, swimming in and out. But it’d be rebuilding the whole thing and make it a swimming pool. And the cost was between forty million and sixty million dollars. Very expensive. And the process did not move forward at that point. The alternative two is a perimeter deck proposal, which is something new that came up in the past – what, six months? About that. And we’re going to look at all these different alternatives. And the perimeter pool idea is, the makai and eva side, walls would come down. This wall would come down too, but it would be rebuilt, [because] if you take it down all this sand on Kaimana Beach, it’s gonna go away. But these walls would come down permanently, you wouldn’t have a wall there anymore. But you would have pillars – am I using the right? – pillars that would be supporting a structure on top that you could walk on, but that water would move in and out, so you basically have seawater inside the pool so it’s kind of like an open swimming pool where you could walk, and you can see here it kind of shows the width of the deck.
There’s still discussions about the height, you know, where they would be rebuilding not just for today but with climate change and sea level rise that would be built such that could accommodate increasing sea level. But it could even be a platform that would move up and down, adjust it. Because we don’t want to make it so high that, like it is right now, it’s about four feet from the surface to the surface of the water, from the surface of the deck to the water, and it’s estimated that that proposal runs between twenty and thirty million dollars. OK? The third proposal, the beach proposal – which is one I lean towards – would remove everything makai of the 1927 shoreline, so we’d be restoring it back to where what it looked like in 1927. We’d build a new bath house, [because] in this case the structure would be moved mauka. We’d lose the bath house, we’d lose our facility for our water safety folks, and we’d have to build a new office for them, and by the way we don’t know where that place would be. It could be just eva of here which [has] met some pushback, but I’ll tell you one thing. We are gonna make sure our water safety folks have the best possible facility for them to work out of and to train out of and to protect lives. If that means building it somewhere in Kapiolani Park on the makai side and that is decided to be the best location, I’m gonna support it because no one person gets to decide who gets to live or die because our water safety folks aren’t where they’re supposed to be. So we’re looking maybe eva of here, we’re looking at Magic Island – as you know we rebuilt by rebuilding Ala Moana Beach Park and you’ve seen the results of the irrigation system in, the volleyball courts the walking path has been repaved, trees have been planted, and on the planning is maybe perhaps a water safety facility down there. Of course the last place is down at Kewalo basin. There’s been discussions there with Howard Hughes folks and with the state about maybe having a facility there, we have a boat that we launch out of there and that would also be an access point, but no decision has been made. This proposal also is between twenty and thirty million dollars. So close to the alternative where we’re looking at a floating platform on the makai, ewa side of the pool. New bathhouse would be here, we’d have new parking over there, it’d be parking – and I hope I’m correct because I want to be correct – is that it would be impervious. It would have grass it could have those Syncrete blocks, so it’d be green. We want to make sure this remains open and green. And of course, our pohaku with the names of those who gave their last full measure of devotion would remain, and that is a memorial that we’d like to go and have programs at.
The fourth action, and the one a lot of people love just generally in our community, is no action. That’s safe, right? As Mayor, by the way, that’d be the safest for me to take as a politician. Because then go ahead of any other decision people are happy or people are upset. But I think that’s the absolute worst decision. It’s what’s happened for four decades and there’s where the disrespect is showing. To those who died. And their families and relatives to this day. That is the action we will not take but it is one we need to look at. Do we have the no action one? We need it – well, we got it right there. Right there, we got the no action right there. Someday we’re going to have a low-grade earthquake or a huge south swell and things are going to fall down even more. No action is between two and four million. So even no action has cost. And why is that? [We’ve] got to remove all the debris that’s in there, the kind of debris that Rocky and Kaimana had to worry about, and we worried about. We have to post signs, more signs to keep the public out because it’s not safe and things are collapsing. So here’s the schedule.
In the summer of 2018 – it’s way so long, I tell you that’s the most frustrating thing for me as Mayor. This process just takes forever. It’s been five years, now we’re going to go into my sixth year as Mayor, and in the summer of 2018 the draft EIS will be completed. And then [in] the fall of 2018, that’s when you have the public hearings, getting people’s input about the various four alternatives, hear what they have to say, we’re open. We want to make sure we get this right, although whatever decision is made at the end of the day not everyone’s going to be happy with. But I think – those kind of decisions are the ones worth making. And in the spring of 2019 there’ll be the publication of the final EIS which – and in which case – we’d then proceed. And I’m hoping that as we get closer we’ll start putting money in the budget to proceed. So that before I leave as Mayor we’re actually taking action so that this thing becomes – this Natatorium, this memorial – is something that shows respect for our veterans and for those who died. Anyway we can proceed and get the funding is getting the support and cooperation of the Honolulu City Council. We have Trevor Ozawa here who is a council member for this area. For Waikiki going all the way out to Hawaii Kai. So Trevor would you like to come up and say a few words? I didn’t ask you, if you don’t want to, that’s fine but – thank you.
Trevor Ozawa: Thank you, yeah. This part of my district is so special as the Mayor outlined, but we got to do something to take care of it. And doing nothing is not doing something. And so [it’d] be a waste of our resources to continue to put in money for a dilapidating structure that – that is dishonouring our veterans as well. So whatever we do in the process, it’s going to be a public process, it’s gonna be a fair process, and I look forward to hearing what the public’s opinion is and what the administration also comes up with in their findings. But like the Mayor said, this is going to be a group effort and not everybody is going to be entirely happy. But hopefully we can come to a compromise where somebody – where both sides and all sides can actually come here one day and have a level of respect for the place that doesn’t currently exist. So I appreciate it.
KC: Thank you, Trevor. We’re gonna ask Robert Kroning, the Director of Design and Construction, to come up and say a few words. Before he does – again, you may wonder why [are] we having this today when we’re not going to be publishing the final EIS ’til 2019. And there’s two reasons. One is to let the public know that we haven’t forgotten and that the process continues and that we are working hard and will continue to do so. The other one is, I want to emphasize, is that alternative number two, which is the perimeter deck alternative that was not on the on the table until about six months ago. It’s now on the table, and it’s because we were hearing from folks about other alternative[s]. If it’s not a full reconstruction of a pool, like having a swimming pool in the water, that perhaps there is a middle ground. And of course the beach alternative, the no action alternative. So Robert if you could come up and say –
Audience member 1: Can we ask a few questions?
KC: Well we will, at the end – we will open it up at – unless you gotta run – is it OK if you wait? I know it’s hot. And Robert, why is it taking so long and can you make it go faster, please, OK? Thanks.
Robert Kroning: So what am I – what am I supposed to say to that? Robert Kroning, I’m director of the Department of the Design and Construction. There’s really not much more for me to add – the Mayor is pretty much covered at all. I’ll talk – yes, frankly we are all frustrated with – with how long this is taking, in fact – long before the Mayor even started, it started way back in the early 90’s I’d say is probably a good place to start, where we – we were working on environmental impact statements and got so far and had to stop because of lawsuits and and stuff like that. And so it’s been stop and start, stop and start, which is one of the main reasons it’s taken so long. But since we’ve started this last go-around when – when as the Mayor mentioned we started several years ago we have made significant process – progress, I’m sorry, we’ve made significant progress and – and some of the reasons why it does take so long is because that process is very complicated and – and on top of that when it’s a controversial issue when you have so many different opinions on – on what should happen to this place you get a lot more input in your process and so that takes time too. You have to answer every one of those those comments and – and take them into consideration and – and use the ones that are valid and feasible but answer the ones that that might not be valid and feasible. But where we are today, I think is a great place. We – we’ve done quite a bit of consultation, a lot of it recently with the State Historic Preservation division which has a huge say in what happens here because this is a historic site and so that’s one of the reasons why it’s taken us so long to develop alternative two to where it is today.
Based on consultations with them we think we now have three viable – viable alternatives, of course there’s four listed we don’t think no action is really feasible, but it – it could end up being that way. So we have very good alternatives that we’re moving forward with and – and on top of that when you have these alternatives in an area like this there’s a lot of study that has to go into it and a lot more consultation. We’ve met with, you know when you talk about environmental it’s more than just the flora and the fauna that are impacted, you’re talking about the economics, you’re talking about the history, you’re talking about the culture, you’re talking about the local community, and so we continue to meet with all those different groups, different associations and different groups, and veterans, because this is a war memorial. So – so all of that goes on. On top of that you have the studies, right? You’re in the ocean so the effect on marine life has to be studied. The effect on the economy has to be studied. The effect on the cultural impact of doing any changes has to be studied. A lot of that has been done and we’re very well along in that process, but we’re not complete yet. We’ve got we’ve got to do that for all the alternatives and so that’s where we are. But it’s – it’s making progress and so as the Mayor mentioned we’ve got the schedule that early summer we should be going out with the draft EIS and that will again bring a lot more questions and an input towards this process that will have to go through. So I think that’s basically it for me.
KC: Thank you – thanks Robert, appreciate it. So before we what we want to do right – and this is where Robert has emphasized to me – we got to look at every possible alternative because if we don’t once shipped he’s not going to probably allow us to proceed with our permits and two, we’re gonna get sued, like Superferry. And just as we begin to take action we’ll be stopped and maybe the project will die at that point. We don’t want to do that. We want to make sure that we’ve addressed every possible alternative, followed the process, left no stone unturned. And when action is decided that we actually implement and see the results of that. So if that will open up to any and all questions you may have and of course we do have Jim Howe here of water – I know you’re so anxious that you must have a tough question to ask! I’m getting worried! [laughs] I’m gonna let all the Hawaii News Now, KITV, Channel Two ask questions that’s it. [laughter] Yeah. And so – but we do have Jim Howe here also and you have Jeannie here from Parks and Rec so you know, we want to get on with the questions but they’re here and you can talk to them individually afterwards, OK? Thank you.
Audience member 1: What are the operational and maintenance costs for the alternative?
KC: I don’t think that I – Robert, you want to address, you want to address it? So I think the EIS is going to look at those kind of things, Gordon, but I don’t think at this point we have gotten into, you know down to the dollar what the operational costs are going to be for – for the project and for maintaining the project. Obviously a beach would probably be the least costly to operate and maintain. If they do it right we shouldn’t have a lot of erosion of that beach. There’d have to be some beach cleaning, of course. An enclosed pool, a lot of operation and maintenance challenges there just with treating the water and making sure everything is clean. A floating one would probably be less, but of course they’re also, you know the interaction with the sea as you see it any dock around this state or anywhere in the world – you know you don’t have to get upset and throw your pen down! But nah. You don’t have – it, it would probably be more costly but [to Robert] you want to jump in and out of it a bit more?
RK: You answered it correctly.
Audience member 1: But that’s, that clearly gonna be one of the things that’s – be factored into the eventual decision, is operations and maintenance?
KC: Right, that’s part of the EIS process.
Audience member 2: Will commercial activities, or sponsorship be allowed so it can offset some of the costs?
KC: You know there’s a lot of discussion about triple P, you know, for rail absolutely, but there’s others. The few times I’ve mentioned it in – in parks you know, there’s a lot of pushback. Their fear that there’s some that are going to be commercialized, although you know, L&L Drive-Inn at Ala Moana Beach Park, I think we all love it, the chicken katsu’s great, I get it all the time. So – we’d look at it, we have nothing planned right at this point through the, through the process, but we’ll be looking at those kinds of things. We’d love to do a public-private partnership for the building, the rebuilding, or the construction of it. That is something definitely we’d be interested in. You know I think the the best example of a triple P that’s ongoing right now is Duane Kurisu’s project to house homeless out by Keehi Lagoon. And we’re gonna be opening, you know having something in January on that. But that kind of thing where the private guys come in, they got the expertise for construction, of course the public has – has the money to do some of these things, but yeah, we’d look at it.
Audience member 3: Mayor, you had a press conference not unlike this one back in 2013 with then-governor Abercrombie. [It] looks like you were you were looking to push what, it’s alternative three here and of course that was four years ago. What’s – what’s happened to to stall that effort in the subsequent years, and you know, why should the public be confident that going forward [that there’s] actually going to be progress this time around?
KC: Well if you were listening to what I said, we haven’t stopped. We haven’t stalled. We’ve – none of that has happened. We’ve actually been moving forward addressing the various alternatives. What has happened is there’s another alternative that people need to consider. I don’t know if you were here back when, with Governor Abercrombie but what was definitely different than this one is the Governor was going to not move forward. He wanted to revoke our executive order that the county has this land under and stop what we wanted to do. The big difference between when we got together was, well then – was to announce we are going to be working together to move forward and we have been moving forward. As I said to everyone who is listening this morning, I said that we have been working ever since on these various alternatives and we’re moving forward. I’m going to be doing a draft EIS, public input, final EIS, and then action. So we’re moving as fast as we can under this process and in probably one of the most complicated places you can find anywhere in the state of Hawaii. Waikiki, on the water, historic veterans’ memorial. Put all that together, you got a lot of issues and we’ve got to get this right. But we have not stalled, we’ve been marching forward at a slow but steady pace. I would like to start before I leave! [To Robert] Can we, Robert? [To audience] Yes, he said yes! [laughter] [To Robert] You want to add – no come on, you can disagree with me!
RK: Of course, we would love for that to happen and if – if things are all lined up perfectly, we can get that to happen. One of the – we call it the long pole and a tent still, once we get through the EIS is then the – the permitting process that has to go to get this thing done, right it’s on – it’s in the ocean so there’s lots of permits that have to get done, water quality type permits. If we can get those expedited, there’s certainly a chance that this can happen before – before you’re done being Mayor, but history has shown that usually those don’t go so fast and, and that’s also taking into consideration where if no one protests, if there’s no legal challenges or anything like that, so – so there’s still a lot of potential obstacles out there. If the stars align correctly and none of that happens, we can – we can get it done within the next – we can get it started within the next two years.
KC: And the reason why I said [I’d] like to start it before I leave is it’s a controversial thing. Every Mayor who’s touched this gets caught in controversy and this administration has not been afraid to touch controversy on many levels. So I’m willing to take that controversy and try to get basically start – start construction so the next Mayor doesn’t have to make that decision because my – my concern is that perhaps that decision will not be made and they’ll take another look, it’ll be eight years later, and it’ll still be sitting here. And that would be a tragedy. And that’s my anxiousness of trying to get started. Yeah, so we’ve got KITV and then we’ll go to you Gordon, thanks.
Audience member 4: If the public wants to give their input on what they think should be done, how can they go about doing that?
KC: [To Clifford Lau] Can you tell how the public can – yeah. And introduce yourself and your name and title.
Clifford Lau: OK. Thank you, gentlemen. My name is Clifford Lau, I’m with the Department of Design and Construction, I work under Robert Kroning. My division actually is overseeing this project and the – I guess the – can you rephrase that question?
Audience member 4: [If the] public has an opinion and they want to get it out there, how can they go about, you know –
CL: OK. OK. When we complete the draft EIS that’s actually going to really start a lot of the public inputting process. Up to this point we’ve been consulting with all the major interested parties through the 6E process with the state because of historical structure. We’ve actually done a lot of – had meetings with the groups. The publishing of the EIS preparation notice generated probably about 2,000 comments that came in and that kind of led to further discussion about other alternatives. So already we are getting input, but the real public input, the open input, will come through the draft EIS and the EIS process, they’ll be moving forward.
Audience member 5: So there’s been a non-profit group that’s offered to at least try to get some outside dollars to help with a certain alternative. Is that going to factor into this decision as well?
KC: Well, I think – we’re going to follow the EIS process and to the extent that’s part of the process, I say yes, it could have an impact. You know the proof is in the pudding? You know, show us the money? I remember when Governor Lingle was Governor she [said] they’re gonna take Turtle Bay, Kui’lima, whatever it’s called – and turn it into some kind of national park and it’s going to get support and lots of money from all over the world? Well, that didn’t show. So part of it is, you know, there’s – there’s commitments about money and then there’s “show us the money”. But, I would think we’d look at every, every possible suggestion that is provided.
Audience member 5: Ultimately the decision will be made by your administration?
KC: Well I think one, we’ll follow the EIS process, and I’ll probably follow the recommendation that looks like it’s the one that makes the most sense from what the community wants and of course, costs.
Audience member 6: How did this second alternative, the new alternative, how did it come about?
KC: OK, I’m gonna start to answer it and then Robert [maybe you] can jump but – you know part of it – there were – there was the beach and then there was the pool. And both are very different. And I think – and people realized the beach was much less expensive than the pool that was very expensive. I think they started talking about, you know, is there some alternative? Part of that group, Gordon you talked about, came up with the design about water flowing in and out and all of that. I think that was after they had already started hearing about this medium, this kind of in-between alternative. So Robert, you want to add to that?
RK: We keep talking about the process a lot, and unfortunately that makes it sound like it takes a long time, and it does. But part of the process was meeting with the State Historic Preservation division, right? That’s what Clifford just mentioned as the 6E process, that’s the historic. So we’ve met with the Department of Health and their Division of State – state historic preservation and, and when we showed them the alternatives that we had, basically the restore the pool to a pool or the beach option, they said that there needed to be an in-between, we need to try to save more of the structure than, than we’re doing even if that means not creating a pool. And so – that was a little bit in contradiction from earlier with the rules, right? We – the Mayor mentioned the pool rules. And so our, our hands were somewhat tied having to create a pool that met all those rules and the only way to do that was to basically enclose the whole area and and put mechanical devices in to to keep it clean. But, but after discussions with DOH (Department of Health) and SHPD (State Historic Preservation Division) we’ve been able to come up with this alternative and so the SHPD has basically said, you – you need to have this as an alternative. And I think after, you know, going over designs and having the concepts laid out and presenting them to DOH recently it looks like it is a feasible alternative that we should go forward with.
KC: We’ll take questions from the press yes, OK? Everyone, you can – otherwise we’ll be here all day asking questions.
Audience member 6: Yeah, but I’m smart.
KC: [Laughs] You heard what he said, press? OK, is it OK though, really? If we can – thanks.
Audience member 7: Just to be clear, we’re clear on your position, you did say your inclination is to go with alternative three?
KC: My inclination has leaned in that direction all along. I’m willing to look at the the alternative middle ground of a floating deck because it costs about the same. Now personally, I mean for me – born and raised here, I’d much rather swim in the ocean any day. But to go the ocean and swim in a pool just seems incongruous for me. [I’d] much rather swim out there, swim laps up to the sock and back, than to swim in a pool back and forth, but – there’s others who do. So, you know, we’ll look at both of them.
Audience member 8: Point of clarification, Robert. Is SHPD saying that it needs more of the pool to be preserved, are they requiring that, or is that just an alternative to say, just throw it in there?
RK: Well, the – the tricky thing with this is they’re saying to add it as an alternative, and they have the power of affecting the permits later. So if we decide to say, thank you for your input but we’re going to ignore it, they can just hold up the permitting as I mentioned before and even though it it may get through the EIS process, they could affect it later in terms of it never being constructed.
Audience member 8: Is that a firm requirement from them? I’m, I’m just not clear. Or do they just want you to study.
RK: It – well, it doesn’t – I guess it’s not firm, right? They can’t make us put it in there? But it, it makes sense for us to to do it, so we will.
KC: In terms of it for me and Robert, you can jump in – the big hurdles is one, SHPD, because they’re gonna have to approve whatever we do, that is a huge challenge. Department of Health, in terms of just making sure the water quality is proper, and then Army Corps of Engineers permits, you know, we’re in the water. All of those things can hold up projects for years and years and years. And if you don’t get ’em you can’t do anything. And again folks, this is the whole reason, is we’re trying to do something. We don’t to make a great beautiful thing and then SHPD doesn’t give us a permit or we end up in a lawsuit because he didn’t follow the right process and we’re right back to where we started when I became managing director in 2009. We don’t want that.
Audience member 9: Under option two, do, do the bleachers stay up?
KC: They do.
Audience member 9: And is there, there’s still gonna be like a hard bottom out by where the deck area is, where people would jump?
KC: I don’t [there’s a] hard bottom on the bottom, but of course the deck would be hard, where you walk. [to Robert] If I’m wrong correct me – but I think the bottom is going to be natural, natural whatever it is. [to Robert] Am I correct?
RK: Yes, that’s correct.
KC: Yep. Any other questions? Otherwise we’ll ask these folks if you could stay for a couple minutes in case you have questions, go stand under one of the milo trees or something or –
Audience member 10: I have a question.
KC: Well, we’re going to take them individually. Any more questions from the press, media? OK, I want to thank everyone and appreciate your covering this ongoing story, there’ll be more more to report later. Thank you.