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Tuesday, April 18, 2000

Dredging up the Ala Wai

The polluted waterway's upcoming
cleaning will bring relief to
canoeists and other recreationists

Chemicals, appliances litter waterway
Group offers funds to fight pollution

By Treena Shapiro


AS he motors past the Ala Wai, Kuma Kumata, 41, a driver for Maui Divers', said Waikiki tourists admire the canal until he mentions that it's polluted.

"I tell them I hope they dredge it," he said. "There's tires, shopping carts, tourists in there," he jokes.

An artist's rendering of the Ala Wai after proposed improvements.

What's really in the canal? "Who knows?" Kumata said. "Junks, a bunch of rubbish?"

Much of the "junks" in the canal will be removed this fall when the state begins dredging it for the first time since 1978. If the necessary permits are issued by Sept. 1, the $10.35 million project could begin in November and be finished by the end of next year.

Meanwhile, along the banks of the canal, projects are under way to beautify the area and make the Ala Wai appealing to pedestrians as well as boaters.

Gov. Ben Cayetano hopes to turn the Ala Wai Golf Course into the "Central Park" of Honolulu. But that project may take years to complete, if it ever happens.

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Builders work on a new walkway and bike path along the Ala Wai.

Meanwhile, the city has created a bike path and canoe halau on the mauka side of the canal from Manoa Stream to McCully Recreation Center. A promenade with benches and trees runs from Ala Moana Boulevard to Kalakaua Avenue. Construction is under way to widen and improve the Kalakaua Avenue Bridge. By June, the city hopes to connect the promenade and the bike path to allow people to stroll or bike completely around the canal.

Elaine McQuade has had a "Save the Ala Wai" T-shirt for 15 years while waiting for the city and state to take action. She remembers the dredging 22 years ago. "It didn't last very long, did it?" she commented.

To Joy O'Donnell, who stays at Iolani Court Plaza half the year, the city's plan is "marvelous."

"I'd love to see the path continue," she said.

O'Donnell also thinks the water could use a cleaning. "I'm sick of seeing debris in the canal," she said.

India Harris said she's bothered by the smell when she sits near the canal. "It's such a beautiful place. I'd really like to see it cleaned up."

"There's been one white plastic bottle in the middle of the canal for two weeks now," she added.

Douglas Oliver, a rower of 70 years, remembers the improvement when the canal was last dredged. "For a couple years, it made all the difference," he said.

But now, portions of the canal are blocked by mud, which hampers paddlers.

"The mud bank is so large and extensive, you can't race," Oliver said.

"It's all right going upstream, but you have to brake coming back down and go over to the other side."

Dredging the canal will improve its water quality, though perhaps not enough to make it safe to swim in, said Hiram Young, head of the design section in the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' engineering branch.

"Everyone forgets the purpose of the Ala Wai canal. It was built to drain all that marshland in that area, so it is functioning as it was planned by the government," Young said. "Waikiki Beach would be mud flats without the canal."

However, he realizes the canal has become a recreational waterway for canoeists.

"That's one of the side benefits of having calm water," Young said.

Mayor Jeremy Harris said he remembers when the Ala Wai was a recreational resource and not an embarrassment. "When I was a teen-ager, I used to dive off the bridge there and we would fish in the canal and all the rest, and of course you wouldn't consider doing that today," he said.

"The canal itself has been badly silted in over the years. Some places there's 20 feet of silt, and where it used to be 22 feet deep, it's now 18 inches deep," he said.

Oliver just wants the mud removed so boaters can use the entire canal. He said he's seen dead dogs, cats and fish floating in the water, but he isn't concerned about his safety in the water.

"I'm experienced enough so I don't fall in," he said.

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Construction is under way on a new walkway and bike
path along the Ala Wai canal between Kalakaua Avenue
and McCully Street, on the mauka side.

Chemicals, appliances
litter waterway

By Treena Shapiro


The mud the state plans to dredge from the Ala Wai canal would fill roughly 23 floors of the 30-story First Hawaiian Building on Bishop Street.

Most of the dredged material has been approved for ocean disposal by the Environmental Protection Agency, possibly at a site 3 miles south of the airport Reef Runway.

The remaining 2 percent of approximately 173,000 cubic yards of silt and sediment will be disposed of onshore. This material from the Kapahulu end of the canal has been contaminated by "urban swell," said Hiram Young, head of the design section of the Department of Land and Natural Resources engineering branch.

The canal, built to trap silt and sediment from Manoa, Makiki and Palolo streams, also collects the debris thrown into those streams or into the canal itself. Refrigerators, tires, batteries and shopping carts are all mired in the canal's bottom.

Fertilizers and pesticides used on people's lawns also are washed into the streams, Young said.

Gas stations may have contributed lead to the canal, since leaded gasoline was around past the last partial dredging.

"There may be traces of lead in the end section," Young said. "It's my understanding that this end of the canal has never been dredged in 70 years existence. Given the limits of human contamination, it's not that bad."

The state is exploring onshore disposal sites for sediment contaminated by organic and chemical materials. The current plan is to evaporate the water from the sediment then bind it with cement to prevent leaching. The sediment would then be used as structural fill in the airport reef runway, with impervious liners installed in both the processing and disposal areas.

All this will ensure the contaminated sediment won't migrate from the disposal site.

"It stays where it's supposed to stay," Young said.

Group offers funds
to fight pollution

Star-Bulletin staff


The Ala Wai Watershed Association wants to improve the water quality in streams draining into the canal, said watershed coordinator Claudia Hamblin-Katnik.

The community-led organization will award funds for projects "designed to build up community awareness and foster improvement of personal practices to avoid pollution," she said.

While the projects won't have much impact on sediment build-up in the Ala Wai Canal, the association has been lobbying for a sediment retention basin on the Ala Wai Golf Course land. Groups will also be installing storm drains to prevent debris from washing into the canal.

"We want to teach the public how to effect change in regard to water quality and educate people on how they can personally prevent pollution," Hamblin-Katnik said.

"Our focus is on a variety of different fronts. We hope to eventually be able to get some grants to make larger capital improvement projects which would have measurable improvements."

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