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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Ala Wai cleanup expected to begin in summer

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Canoe paddlers are tired of waiting and Kalihi residents are worried about toxic residue, but the state says it is moving forward with plans to dredge the Ala Wai Canal as quickly and safely as possible. By next summer, the Waikiki waterway should get its first major flushing in 23 years.

"We've been waiting for so long," said Leighton Look, head coach of the Hui Lanakila Canoe Club. "It's really shallow. In one spot there is a big mud bar and even at high tide it's no more than two feet deep. The problem is you can't paddle over it and you create a logjam trying to get around it. It's kind of dangerous."

The two-mile-long canal isn't the most important waterway on O'ahu, but it is in the heart of tourism country and is used by thousands of residents for everything from charity rubber-ducky races, to Buddhist obon candle ceremonies, to canoe practice.

It is a visible symbol of the importance of water to the Islands, but it has been slowly deteriorating because of oft-delayed cleanup efforts.

Today it's a smelly, mud-filled eyesore.

The dredging, a $7.4 million project to be paid for by the state, aims to change that.

In February the state approved awarding a contract for the dredging, but a court challenge from a losing bidder has held up work. The canal was last dredged in 1978.

Work is now expected to begin sometime in the summer, according to Andrew Monden, chief engineer for the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The contract was awarded to American Marine Corp., which submitted the lowest bid of $7,433,547.50 to remove 170,000 cubic yards of sediment.

RCI Environmental Inc. filed a protest the day after bids were opened, saying American's bid failed to include a necessary subcontractor. RCI's request for an administrative hearing on the bid was dismissed, but it has appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court, said company vice president Marty Miller.

Work can proceed despite the appeal, Monden said.

Monden said because of the delay, American Marine sent its barges needed for the dredging to the Mainland for another job. Now they must either build new barges specifically for this job or wait until the Mainland work is completed and bring them back to Hawai'i.

Once the work begins, it will take about one year to complete, Monden said.

The Ala Wai Canal was first conceived in 1906 but never finished. It was designed to extend across Kapahulu Avenue and mauka of Kapi'olani Park, exiting near what is now the Natatorium, which would have allowed water from the ocean to circulate from one end to the other. Its primary purpose was to drain the area and to control mosquitoes. Money ran out in the late 1920s, and the canal stopped short of Kapahulu Avenue.

Today, the canal collects and drains water from Manoa, Palolo, Makiki and surrounding areas. It acts as a catchment basin, trapping sediments and other pollutants that flow into the canal, but without ocean circulation, it has slowly filled and in some sections is only inches deep at low tide.

Bernadette Young, chairwoman of the Kalihi/Palama Neighborhood Board, said Kalihi residents are not opposed to the dredging, but are fighting a plan to dump the dredged material in the ocean near Sand Island.

"They want to bring that 170,000 cubic yards down to Sand Island and dump it," Young said. "The EPA and other people are telling us it is safe. If it is so safe dump it off Waikiki."

Monden said the Ala Wai contains lead, chlordane and other pollutants washed down from city streets.

He said the state submitted core samples to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which has authorized the state's plan to dump the dredged materials in the ocean about 3.8 miles off Honolulu International Airport. About 1,800 cubic yards of contaminated material will be treated on land.

Monden said no hazardous materials will be dumped in the ocean.

"If you were to drop a rock, that is a clean drop," Young said. "When you dump (thousands of) cubic yards, the moment it hits the water it will start dissipating and the waves will bring some of it back to shore.

"We are all environmentalists at heart, and I don't like them dumping it into the ocean. We're trying to save the oceans for the future generations."

Young plans to keep pressing for the state to look into alternatives before the dredging project begins and will seek help from area lawmakers.

Look said at least nine canoe clubs and high school teams train in the Ala Wai and the sooner it is dredged, the better.

"The canoes have got to have waterways. You can practice in the ocean, but as far as training and the real personalized attention from the coaches you can't beat the Ala Wai," Look said. "The coaches can run alongside their crews. You are right there standing next to them."