EIS redo and land transfer open window to move playground from Ala Moana to Kakaako

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Lawmakers are asking the city administration to go back to the drawing board on environmental review of Ala Moana Beach Park projects, including a controversial playground, just as the city is on the verge of taking over 41 acres of mostly park land in Kakaako. Always Investigating follows up on suggestions to move the playground to Kakaako.

Park improvements slated for Ala Moana include reconfiguring parking, adding a dog park, and putting in a large playground. It’s that last feature that’s got the phone ringing the most at the area councilmember’s office.

“I’ve only heard opposition,” said Tommy Waters, the Honolulu City Councilmember whose district includes the park. “I think maybe one or two people have talked about support for it.”

But it’s all been under planning and environmental review for several years. The Honolulu City Council wants the administration to take another pass at it. The city Department of Parks and Recreation tells Always Investigating that another EIS could cost $125,000 to $150,000.

Always Investigating asked Waters about justification for the six-figure cost of going back to the drawing board again.

“The reason why I was pushing for a third EIS was to address sea-level rise,” Waters said. “If Ala Moana Park is going to have a three-foot sea level rise, really should we be spending on putting in a playground with all that equipment as well as a dog park? If we’re going to do an EIS, we should do it in Kakaako rather than Ala Moana.”

Kakaako is where the city is about to take over dozens of acres of parks from the Hawaii Community Development Authority, including parcels adjacent to the Children’s Discovery Center.

“There’s parking, it is a pretty flat space already, the children’s center is another world class feature that is there,” said Shar Chun-Lum of the Save Ala Moana Beach Park Hui, which opposes locating a playground at Ala Moana but supports the concept of the playground at an alternate site. “why wouldn’t you want to have it where you have a magnet for children?”

Chun-Lum says there are environmental benefits to moving the playground site.

“Kakaako is on higher ground, in terms of climate change,” she said. “They’re probably not going to get the same kind of flooding that you would here at this park (Ala Moana).”

Always Investigating asked Mayor Kirk Caldwell about the two locations, when we walked through the Kakaako areas the city is about to get in the transfer from HCDA.

“Why not bring that up here and take advantage of one of these parcels that are right by the Children’s Discovery Center and move that children’s playground here?” Always Investigating asked.

“All of this was a landfill, there are a lot of contaminants right below the soil, and anytime you start digging — and we’d have to dig — you’re going to have to address that issue,” Caldwell said. “And, you’d have to do an EIS, just like the one (at Ala Moana). We’ve done now two EISs in Ala Moana. They want a third, which I think is crazy. One should have been enough; we’ve done a second. But to do all of that you’re talking about extreme delay and cost.”

Waters thinks the Kakaako land and the nature of the dog park and playground would prove suitable.

“With the zip line and the playground, it’s a cement pad, so I think it will be fine there,” Waters said of the Kakaako parcels. “Go ahead and do the EIS, just save Ala Moana Beach Park.”

The mayor says he prefers keeping the playground feature at Ala Moana.

“We have an opportunity in a park that’s the most visited park in all of the state of Hawaii with many children in it, and it doesn’t have a playground,” Caldwell said. “Playgrounds and parks go together. Lawn bowling and Ala Moana go together. The McCoy Pavilion and Ala Moana go together, our new beach volleyball, all of these things can occur and I believe should occur in a park with over 4 million visits just to the beach park.”

“We’ve got the most beautiful ocean right there,” Waters says of Ala Moana, “but Kakaako where you don’t really have access to the water as easily as you do at Ala Moana, if the administration wants to put a splash pad, we’ll put it in Kakaako. It would be the perfect spot. Good spot for a dog park, too. With all the buildings being built in Kakaako, that’s a perfect space for it.”

The mayor says Kakaako could get a playground too, just not this playground.

“This is an area where we could do more to it. We’re not opposed to providing more playground experiences for kids all around this island,” Caldwell said. “But the effort here will take a lot longer because of the special nature of this area.”

We’ll follow up as the next EIS develops and look at how it will address viable alternatives. Beach park advocates say they’ll be asking the neighborhood board to again discuss a playground move to Kakaako at this month’s meeting.

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