Saturday, July 31, 1999


Tearing down
Natatorium not
simple task

It's on state and national historic
registers, making approvals difficult
to obtain, a local expert says

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


The administrator for the state Historic Preservation Division says it would be extremely difficult to obtain approvals to tear down even portions of the Waikiki War Memorial and Natatorium.

Mayor Jeremy Harris, the Friends of the Natatorium and other supporters of full restoration have long held that destroying any section of the 72-year-old facility is impossible because it is on both state and national historic registers.

As such, they argue, the city has no recourse but to fully restore it. They also believe restoration is more desirable and would cost the same as destroying it.

Don Hibbard, administrator of the state Historic Preservation Division, said any plans to alter the natatorium would require approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Hibbard, who has been on the historic preservation staff since 1978, said the Army Corps would then need to determine whether there is an "adverse impact" on the structure, Hibbard said.

Such a determination, he said, would be done in consultation with his office and the President's Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

Hibbard said it is highly unlikely either his office or the national council, made up of 20-plus government officials at the federal, state, municipal or military levels, would approve a partial restoration, particularly since a full restoration plan is already on the books.

"One of the things that would be looked at is, 'What are our alternatives?'" Hibbard said. "In this case, we have what appears to be a feasible alternative."

Cost, he said, is a consideration.

"If the city already has awarded a contract, the (federal) council might very well recommend to the Army Corps of Engineers that they deny any permit for partial demolition," Hibbard said, emphasizing that he is only speculating.

"I think it's quite likely the Corps would listen to the advisory councils," he said. "It's very rare that a federal agency does not listen to the advisory councils' recommendations."

He noted the president's council includes representatives from the U.S. Department of Defense who likely would be reluctant to support destroying a war memorial.

"To issue a permit to demolish, it would likely need to be made at the (presidential) Cabinet level," Hibbard said. "It probably would have to be a secretary of defense or secretary of the Army saying you can tear down a war memorial."

On noncontroversial sites, the national council could leave it strictly in the hands of the state historic office to deal with the Army Corps, Hibbard said.

"I would suspect, in this case, the council would want to be involved because of the nature of the project."

Not that full restoration opponents would get much help from Hibbard, whose office has testified in favor of full restoration before the Honolulu City Council.

Still, members of the Kaimana Beach Coalition think partial restoration is possible.

"The city and county and the state have already allowed an adverse impact by allowing the pool to fall into a state of disrepair," said Doug Codiga, an environmental attorney representing the coalition. "We are dealing with competing versions of rehabilitation."

Codiga said both the state and national historic register authorities need to seriously look at the setbacks suffered by the full restoration plan in recent weeks.

"That plan has run into some very serious snags and for very good reason," Codiga said.

Circuit Judge Gail Nakatani ruled that a restored natatorium would need a saltwater pool permit to operate. Health Director Bruce Anderson said it would take up to a year or more for saltwater pool rules to be created.

The mayor, upon hearing Anderson's timeline, said he would cancel the pool portion of the construction contract because litigation-based delays could drive costs beyond the amount approved by the City Council.

Harris has since clarified that he eventually still wants to see full restoration.

Meanwhile, the Kaimana Beach Coalition is seeking a permanent injunction against work on the pool. A ruling on a preliminary injunction is expected this week.

"What we need to do now, either the city or the state, is to develop a plan for partial restoration," Codiga said.

"The main point is Mr. Hibbard agrees it's possible to (take portions down)," Codiga said. "As to the likelihood, as he admits, it's pure speculation at this point."

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