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USS Arizona Memorial might reopen by October, officials say

A 2004 file photo of the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

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By TIMOTHY HURLEY | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: May 30, 2019

HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — Interior Secretary David Bernhardt got a close-up view of the disabled USS Arizona Memorial Wednesday before pledging to finish the repairs to its concrete passenger dock as soon as possible.

Addressing the media after a tour aboard a 40-foot Navy barge, Bernhardt said he would be disappointed if the repairs weren’t done by October.

“I’m making sure we get it done as fast as possible. Everything looks like we’re on track,” he said.

The date is the latest estimate for when access will be restored to the hallowed battlefield shrine, out of action since May 2018.

Park officials originally said it would reopen by October, then by December, followed by the end of March. Two months ago they said “fall.”

Access to the memorial was suspended one year ago when damage was identified to the concrete structure where passengers disembark from Navy boats. Closer inspection revealed a much bigger problem — the dock’s anchoring system had deteriorated, making it unsafe to use.

The Arizona Memorial is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Hawaii, recording nearly 1.8 million visitors in 2018.

But for the second summer in a row, there will be no walk-on visitations.

Bernhardt took his boat tour Wednesday afternoon along with U.S. Rep. Ed Case, Pearl Harbor National Memorial Superintendent Jacqueline Ashwell and Rear Adm. Brian Fort, Navy Region Hawaii Commander.

“We are all very committed to getting it finished as fast as we can,” Case said afterward. “Things look good right now. We’re going to stay on the job until it’s done.”

Bernhardt, who was confirmed as Secretary of the Interior in April, said getting the repairs finished quickly was personal for him. He said his great uncle went down with the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941.

“When I was 5 or 6 years old, my grandfather was teaching me the Pledge of Allegiance. He actually told me the story about encouraging his brother to join the military. And to have the sense of loss. It instilled in me a belief every time the flag walked by,” he said.

Bernhardt added that he felt moved as the boat passed by the monument several times Wednesday afternoon.

Officials said the repair project involves using large screws to anchor the concrete structure to the seafloor.

Bernhardt said the heavy anchor screws are being custom made.

”They are something you can’t just buy off the shelf and throw in the ground,” the secretary said. “There’s a lot of sensitivity in ensuring that important historic objects are not damaged in the process.”

The seafloor under the Arizona is silty and dynamic, making for an additional challenge to the project, he said.

Ashwell previously said a project of this complexity would normally take several years to plan and complete, but it had been expedited because of the efforts of the National Park Service, Navy, Air Force and several contractors.

In March the National Park Serv­ice awarded a $2.1 million contract for the repairs. On Wednesday Bern­hardt said he couldn’t say what the ultimate cost of the project was, saying “we don’t want to give our contractors a goal to shoot at.”

Case said that with the Arizona Memorial so popular, it’s not surprising the concrete structure eventually broke down.

“We were lucky enough to discover this before anybody was hurt,” he said. “It’s frustrating for all of us that it’s taken this long. But I’m convinced that it needed to go through a very deliberate process to make sure that we’ve done it right.”

Bernhardt said the issue highlights a larger problem in the U.S. — a deteriorating infrastructure, and particularly in the national parks.

“The congressman is working on legislation and we’re working on legislation to deal with the maintenance backlog to make sure we don’t end up having events we’re surprised by,” he said.

While stepping foot on the actual monument is unavailable for now, officials are quick to point out that visitors can still experience a lot at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. Attractions include a 25-minute documentary, taking a narrated harbor tour and exploring various museums.

Bernhardt is traveling to Hawaii island today to recognize Interior Department scientists who conducted work during the 2018 volcanic eruption, among other things.

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