Access to USS Arizona Memorial is delayed again, repairs may take many months

The battleship USS Arizona (BB 39) memorial, as seen from the air in July, 2018.


By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: February 27, 2019

HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — Walk-on access to the USS Arizona Memorial won’t be restored by the end of March, as previously announced by the National Park Service, and it may be many more months before access resumes, officials said.

The complexity of repairs to a 105-foot floating concrete dock that serves as a boat disembarkation site is adding more and more time to the predicted reopening.

The timeline raises the prospect of a total of 15 months or more of no access to the revered sunken battleship and grave for more than 900 men, including a second busy summer season without the ability to step foot on the Arizona Memorial. Access was curtailed in May.

Some 4,000 to 5,000 visitors head out to Pearl Harbor every day to see one of the most popular attractions in the state.

A series of expected reopening dates was given by the park service, including: unlikely before Oct. 1, before Dec. 7 and, most recently, the end of March.

“Over the past 10 months, National Park Service staff and partners have taken an aggressive approach to develop and implement an expedited plan to repair the damage to the visitor loading ramp on the USS Arizona Memorial,” Jacqueline Ashwell, superintendent of the Arizona Memorial, said in a statement Tuesday. “Despite our best efforts and optimism, our previously estimated timeline for restoring access to the USS Arizona Memorial has been delayed and it will not reopen this March.”

She added, “I am frustrated, as all of us are. I can promise you that every person working on this project is working as hard as they can, and are dedicated to reopening the memorial to the public as soon as we can.”

A contract for the repairs is expected be awarded in March, she said.

Some officials maintain that reopening dates were given out in an effort to placate the public and higher-ups in the Department of the Interior even when it was known the project would be lengthy.

Andrew Munoz, a spokesman for the National Park Service’s Pacific West Region in San Francisco, which oversees the Arizona Memorial, said dates provided to the public were not knowingly false.

“They were the best estimates given the information that we had at the time,” he said of the repair project, which has grown in complexity.

“Were they overly optimistic? Yes, I think they were overly optimistic — especially given the sensitivity of the site,” he said.

The process that the park service is going through to effect repairs normally would take three years, Munoz said. That’s being condensed down into — the park service hopes — less than half that time.

An unfortunate side effect has been some visitors planning their visit to Hawaii and the Arizona Memorial based on the earlier projected access dates — only to find that access hasn’t been restored.

“It’s always disappointing when someone is not able to fully enjoy the park as they intended when they arrive,” Munoz said. “We tried to hopefully set some of those expectations by keeping folks updated. These are our best estimates.”

On Oct. 29 the park serv­ice said in a release that it expected the USS Arizona Memorial dock repair project “to be complete by March 2019, allowing visitor access to the memorial to resume.”

The design phase of the project had been completed at that time, “allowing for the development of a more precise timeline for the repair process.”

The park service said then that “unfortunately, it will not be completed in time for National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day on Dec. 7,” adding that “since May, the NPS has worked with its partners in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force to ensure repairs are made as quickly as possible with special consideration given to the national significance of the site.”

Access to the USS Arizona Memorial was suspended May 6 when minor damage to the exterior of the structure became visible at the main point of entry, the park service said previously.

“A more thorough examination revealed that the damage was caused by a failure of the anchoring system for the boat dock adjacent to the USS Arizona Memorial,” the park service said. Access was resumed for a few days but was then curtailed for good May 10.

Six chains and concrete blocks anchoring the dock and sitting in the mud of 40-foot-deep Pearl Harbor apparently became dislodged. King tides in 2017 might have been the culprit, officials said.

The wayward dock was pushing and pulling on the 4-ton, 30-foot metal bridge connecting it to the circa-1962 memorial, placing “extreme pressure” on the loading bridge, according to the park service.

The park service eventually decided on a new fix:

anchoring the dock with “helical” steel pilings that screw into bedrock on the seafloor.

Ashwell said in June that environmental studies might be needed.

“It’s not like you (just) dig a big anchor into the ground,” she said at the time. “You’ve got an archaeological site right next to it that’s got the remains of over 900 men and the possibility of unexploded ordnance.”

In the meantime the visitor center and its two museums remain open, and harbor boat tours are provided past the Arizona and what was Battleship Row.

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