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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Island Voices
Ala Wai must have greenbelt

By Mark Dougherty
O'ahu resident

The proposal to convert the Ala Wai Golf Course into a park, initially a seemingly good idea, now faces well-reasoned opposition.

Golfers speak not only to the loss of their beloved course, but assert that a new park would be prohibitively expensive to build and maintain. They also argue the park would be underused, noting that inland parks historically have drawn low public use.

From this standpoint, the case for leaving the golf course alone remains strong. Yet two other factors warrant consideration.

First, city engineers tell us that reducing pollution flowing into the Ala Wai Canal from streams requires construction of large sediment ponds on part of the course. If that's the case, some land must be surrendered for this purpose. The long-delayed Ala Wai clean-up — critical to Waikiki's revitalization — must take priority over any special interests, including golfers.

Second, the narrow slice of land bordering the mauka side of the canal should be converted into a greenbelt, with bike and jogging paths.

Consider the beautiful walkway just completed along the Convention Center. Imagine its extension to Kapahulu Avenue. Imagine being able to walk, jog or bike 1 1/2 miles from McCully Bridge to Kapi'olani Park in a car-free zone with stunning views of the Waikiki skyline.At present, a walk along the canal length offers but one option: the makai bank, where a narrow sideway flanks four lanes of exhaust-belching traffic on Ala Wai Boulevard.

It is odd that city officials didn't build this greenbelt decades ago. This sliver of land — the greenbelt only requires a 75- to 100-foot width — never should have been designated exclusively for golfers. The mauka bank of the Ala Wai is one of Honolulu's unrealized treasures and can provide our crowded city with a rare thing — a major walkway that does not abut yet another road.

What a gift for Honolulu's thousands of joggers, bikers and walkers, who face noisy, choking traffic at almost every turn.

Can engineers build the ponds and greenbelts without reducing the golf course form its current 18-hole configuration? Hopefully so. If not, and the course needs to be downsized to nine holes, then so be it. Golfers will have to compromise.

Honolulu's need for an unpolluted canal whose banks are open to all users must come first. Let's scrap the plan, turn the golf course into a park and proceed with all haste to clean our canal and build the Ala Wai Greenbelt.