The City Council votes 6-3 toBy Harold Morse
restore the WWI memorial,
despite health warnings
Work on the Waikiki War Memorial and Natatorium is expected to begin by March following the City Council's decision to back full restoration of the project.
The Council, by a vote of 6-3, last night granted a special management area use permit and shoreline setback variance for the $11.5-million project, which is expected to take 16 months.
Several minor, administrative permits are still needed but aren't expected to delay the project, city spokeswoman Carol Costa said today.
Bids are being accepted through Dec. 23 for the construction contract. A selection is expected to be made by the end of the year, Costa said. Last night's Council vote followed more than six hours of public hearing testimony.
Randall Fujiki, director, city Department of Design and Construction, said the structure is on both the National Register of Historic Places and State Historic Register. "The project is well-designed and properly funded," he said.
Edward Pskowski, vice president of Leo A. Daly and Associates, an architectural firm that prepared the Environmental Impact Statement, said restoration plans are sound.
"Please don't confuse the old natatorium with the new design and its many improvements," he said. "The water quality inside will be just as good as the water quality outside." Salt water will flow through large raised pipes that won't clog the way smaller pipes did in the past, Pskowski said. "We've not only increased the size of the openings, but we've raised them so that they would not be blocked by sand."
But not all those who spoke were in favor of full restoration. Chip Fletcher, coastal geologist and University of Hawaii professor, slammed preserving the salt water pool. He said unacceptable features have been added since the Environmental Impact Statement was prepared.
The idea of both healthy clean water and clear water to make the pool bottom visible are mutually exclusive, he said.
"To clear the water, it will have to stop moving and stand," he said. Sand buildups will decrease water circulation energy, he said. "The cost of dredging the sand could easily double the maintenance cost."
Gordon Edlin said the natatorium restoration would be a health disaster waiting to happen because of infection dangers. Edlin, UH adjunct professor of biochemistry and biophysics, John A. Burns School of Medicine, said the restoration project is the most serious issue Council members will ever vote on.
He recalled the E. coli tragedy last summer in Marietta, Ga., which took one child's life and hospitalized 26 others.
"It only takes one bacterium or one virus," he said. "I urge the Council to vote unanimously against this."
He foresaw hundreds of millions of dollars in liability risks from infections he predicts will occur.
Councilmen John DeSoto and others said they swam for years at the natatorium and had no ill effects. DeSoto noted he grew up drinking salt water for ailments and entered the ocean to heal bruises.
Others said swimming at the natatorium enhanced their health.
Edlin said things have changed, new diseases have emerged and a natatorium-related epidemic could decimate the tourist industry in Waikiki.
"We live in a time of extreme accountability and liability," he said. "There's no way to insure that people will not get infected, and they will."
Roger Fujioka, director, UH Water Resources Center, disagreed with Edlin.
He favors enforcing preventive measures, such as monitoring to determine water quality, requiring all swimmers to shower before entering the natatorium, and not allowing anyone with skin infections or liver disease in the pool.
He would bar children under age 4.
Also, he would take steps to prevent buildup of sediments, nutrients and microorganisms. He said adequate water circulation is a must. "If the flow is good, it's probably safe," he said. A number of veterans testified in favor of the total restoration package, a few against it.
Those opposed said they think safeguarding health is an issue separate from honoring veterans.
"This was a living memorial that our 1921 Territorial Legislature erected in the memory of our World War I veterans," said Nancy Bannick of the Friends of the Natatorium. "There was no beach there before the natatorium was built." She and others urged keeping the complex intact as one integral structure with its original uses as set forth with its 1927 opening.
Rick Bernstein of the Kaimana Beach Coalition favored retaining the memorial facade and restoring an acre of beach, in part by removing the salt water pool.