It’s not been the best of summers for the four public museums and memorials in Pearl Harbor.
The effects of a halt in visitor walk-on access to the USS Arizona Memorial in May to fix its dock have been compounded by traffic-impeding rail construction on Kamehameha Highway, a hurricane and tropical storm, and now, repairs needed to the Arizona Memorial’s shoreside dock, which has partially sunk.
Since May 10 visitors have not been able to set foot on the distinctive walkway memorial that straddles the sunken battleship — one of the most visited attractions in the state.
With the shore-side dock sinking Saturday night, harbor boat tours also have been canceled — although the National Park Service hopes they will be restored this weekend.
Sydney Down, visiting with his wife from Australia, found out all of this too late.
“We were disappointed to find out that we couldn’t go on the (boat) and on the memorial. We found out on the bus coming here,” the 62-year-old said as he waited for his wife on a bench outside the Arizona Memorial visitor center.
Visiting the famous memorial “was one of the major events” of their trip to Hawaii, he said.
The park service said it is scrambling to fix both docks — with resumed memorial walk-on access hoped for by Dec. 7, the 77th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks.
In the meantime, visitor counts have been down nearly 5 percent to 19 percent at the adjacent USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, Battleship Missouri Memorial and Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum over the busy summer months of June, July and August.
All of the museums are scrambling to keep visitors coming — and dissuade them from canceling visitation plans heading into the holidays.
“There’s still tons of stuff to do” at the Arizona Memorial visitor center, which has two museums, a 23-minute film about the attack, shoreside exhibits and added volunteer and ranger programs, said Jay Blount, an Arizona Memorial spokesman.
“We don’t want people coming to Hawaii for a week and not come here,” he said. “They can (also) see the Missouri, they can see the Bowfin, they can see the aviation museum.”
Shuttle fees to Ford Island to see the Missouri and aviation museum have been waived, the museums said.
“To address the reduced access to the memorial itself, we have augmented our visitor briefing to provide a more thoughtful and comprehensive understanding of the Pearl Harbor attack and the events that followed,” said Elissa Lines, executive director of the aviation museum.
Lines also said the museum is working with the Missouri, Bowfin, National Park Service and Pacific Historic Parks — a nonprofit that raises money for the Arizona Memorial — “to provide visitors with a briefing on the Missouri pier that faces the Arizona, providing the closest view of the memorial possible at this point.”
The special Dec. 7, 1941, interpretive tours begin today, are free, and will continue until the park service resumes its harbor boat tours, a Missouri official said.
Visitors who arrive in rental cars have to navigate a serpentine coned-off course on Kamehameha Highway to get to the Arizona Memorial parking lot, which serves all the museums.
Hurricane Lane and Tropical Storm Olivia didn’t help in August and September. The Bowfin, for example, was closed for 4-1/2 days for Lane and 1-1/2 days for Olivia, said Executive Director Chuck Merkel.
“I grant you that the big thing is to be able to go out and walk on the (Arizona) Memorial, but you can certainly come and see what the submarine force did in response to the attack here, and what they’ve done in the Cold War and into the future,” he said.
Merkel said the halt to Arizona Memorial visitation over the summer has had a small impact in terms of overall revenue, “but it does hurt. It does take away somewhat from the experience.”
He doesn’t have any insight into when that access will be restored, he said, but if would-be visitors “are making their plans for the holidays now, and they’re really not sure, it could have an impact.”
Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii personnel came to the rescue Saturday night when the shoreside dock started sinking, and divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1 and Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard were working to refloat the 180-foot concrete pier Monday and Tuesday as part of scheduled training.
Ten big watertight concrete chambers provide the flotation for what are actually two piers tied together. The center two sections had been taking on some water, but were pumped out periodically.
On Saturday, the center chambers started taking on far more water for still-unexplained reasons and sunk, officials said.
Blount said he is optimistic the Navy can refloat and repair the pier so it can be used this Saturday for resumed harbor boat tours.
Repairs to allow resumed walk-on access to the memorial itself have become far more complicated than originally thought, Blount said.
The floating concrete pier was found to be moving too far laterally. The decision was made to replace a chain and concrete block anchoring system with big screws that auger into the seafloor.
The park service originally gave a date of “not sooner than Oct. 1” for restored access, but it now hopes repairs can be effected in time for this year’s Dec. 7 commemoration.
“Now that we have the design and we know what it requires, we know there is going to be an extensive preparatory component to do the work,” the park service’s Blount said.
That includes permits from the Fish and Wildlife Service, Hawaii Coastal Zone Management, National Marine Fisheries Service, Army Corps of Engineers, as well as an environmental review and check for unexploded ordnance, or UXO, he said.
“It’s not so much the work itself. It’s the permitting, the UXO provisions — then actual contracting for the work and completion of the work,” he said.