Opposition climbs
amid new concerns

The public and Council are throwing
cold water on the plan as doubts about
safety, costs and operations emerge

By Richard Borreca

Opposition to an $11.5 million plan to rebuild the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium is increasing among both local beach-goers and City Council leaders.

Mayor Jeremy Harris wants the 70-year-old saltwater pool rebuilt to serve as a local swimming facility during the day and a tourist spot at night.

Harris, however, adds that present plans don't include lights. Also, the restored pool is to be turned over to a private operator who will run the facility.

"I think in the long term, as we are trying to revitalize Waikiki and beautify the area, I think that would be a nice thing to have happen," Harris said, when asked about night use for aquacades and water shows.

"But under the planned configuration, that would not be possible, although I thought that it was a good idea."

More than 1,000 people have signed petitions protesting the planned renovation, according to Annie Bernstein of the Kaimana Beach Coalition.

"We feel the next step will be commercial events aimed at tourists," she said.

On the Council, which must approve a shoreline management plan before construction can start, there are new doubts about how safe and clean the water will be, how the pool will be paid for and how it will be operated.

Councilman Duke Bainum, a doctor who originally supported the renovation, says while he wants the pool restored, new concerns about its water quality have given him pause.

"Until we can clarify water-quality issues, I'm not decided on a permit," he said.

Councilwoman Donna Kim, whose planning committee must schedule a hearing on the proposal, says she is against the plan as it stands today.

"There is no guarantee there aren't going to be problems. If someone gets sick, are they going to sue the city? That's all we need: an epidemic," she said.

City officials and the Friends of the Natatorium say studies show that the pool's water will flow through from the ocean 10 times a day and it will be clean and safe.

Still, state Deputy Health Director Bruce Anderson warns that there will be days when the pool's water will be too cloudy to permit safe swimming.

"We urge (the city) to consider the public's expectation that a swimming pool will be safer than the ocean, and to consider the impact of sporadic pool closures in response to high turbidity and possible episodes of staph infection on the economics of the pool operations," he wrote.

The financial implications of running the pool, which according to city officials may be the largest saltwater pool in the world, have not been studied.

Harris says how the pool will operate and how it will be financially independent are separate questions from the need to restore the memorial to the 101 Hawaii soldiers who died in World War I.

He did say it was reasonable to charge tourists to swim at the pool.

But when asked about The Friends' detailed plans to charge tourists $3 to swim, charge county and state agencies for rescue training and swim classes, plus run a gift shop and food concession, Harris wouldn't comment.

"We haven't analyzed any of that. It is premature to comment on that. Everyone has an equal opportunity; it is premature to comment on plans of any other organization," Harris said.

"I personally think it is realistic that the tourists who use it should be expected to pay for entrance. (If there was a) food concession in it, I believe it would be a lucrative one."

Kim remains unconvinced. "Nobody is going to pay to swim in a pool when they can go to the beach and swim for free," she said.

"They are going to pay three dollars to jump into a pool that may have health risks. It doesn't seem to make a lot of whole sense."

Also, since there are no U.S. Swimming-sanctioned records for 100-meter saltwater pools, it would be difficult to organize a major swim meet at the facility.

"Most swimming competitions are held in chlorinated water. I'm not sure you are going to have that kind of competition," Kim said.

Because of all that, Kim says she is against restoring the pool, unless written financial guarantees can be offered by the operator.

Harris faces another hurdle, because pool reconstruction plans call for building two 18-foot-wide sea walls off the corners of the existing pool.

The groins, which would be 72 and 56 feet long, are crucial to water circulation patterns.

But before they can be built, the state must approve the plans because the structure would be on submerged state land.

In 1995, when Gov. Ben Cayetano approved the environmental impact statement for the reconstruction project, his message was one of caution.

"I expect the appropriate legislative bodies and governmental agencies to consider if the societal benefits justify the economic, social and environmental impacts which are likely to occur," he said, noting that approval of the impact statement was not an endorsement of the proposed action.

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