The long wait for the USS Arizona Memorial to reopen to walk-on visits is ending soon, with a new anchoring system drilled firmly into the seafloor to keep a formerly wayward floating access dock in place, officials say.
“We have entered the final phase of the USS Arizona Memorial loading dock repair process and plan to issue a press release over the coming days to update our visitors on the current situation and when they can expect access to the memorial to be restored,” Jay Blount, chief of interpretation and education at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, said Tuesday.
The National Park Service oversees the memorial at ground zero of the surprise Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941, that sought to cripple the U.S. Pacific Fleet — and in the process drew America and its industrial might into World War II.
A total of 1,177 lives were lost on the Arizona in the tragedy, which still ranks as the Navy’s single greatest loss of life.
The sunken battleship memorial, one of the most visited attractions in the state, sees 4,000 to 5,000 people a day. In 2018 nearly 1.8 million people visited the Pearl Harbor site.
Access to the memorial was suspended in May 2018 when park staff noticed minor damage to the structure. Inspection of the dock revealed a failure of its anchoring system, which allowed too much lateral movement at the spot where passengers disembark from Navy boats.
A series of “helical” pilings were screwed into the seafloor, and synthetic webbing was attached to a corresponding dozen points on the 105-foot floating concrete dock as part of a more than $2.1 million fix, officials said.
The lines snake out 80 to 90 feet at angles below the dock, which needs to rise and fall with the tides.
King tides in 2017 are believed to have dislodged heavy concrete blocks previously sunk into the sediment of Pearl Harbor and connected by chains to the dock.
Instead of risking a repeat, the park service went with a different approach: the helical pilings that were screwed into the seafloor. Some are upward of 100 feet long, Blount said.
The park service came in for some criticism for the length of time the project has taken.
Blount previously said he fully understands the disappointment of those who haven’t been able to step foot on the Arizona Memorial.
But he also said “there’s been no point since May 2018 when this happened that there’s not been work being conducted” on the sequential repairs that took place. The park service announced the award of a repair contract in March.
The Navy continued to provide boat launch tours past the Arizona Memorial and along Battleship Row without the usual memorial stop-off.
Brenden Scott, 32, who lives on Oahu, took the boat trip out Tuesday with his mother, Robin, who was visiting from Washington state.
“I think being able to (walk on the memorial) would make the experience a lot more impactful,” Brenden Scott said. “It would have been cool to see the actual ship. I’ll come back for sure” when visitation is restored.
Married couple Tom Little and Randi Marshak, visiting from Pennsylvania, have less of an ability to do that. Little’s grandfather served in World War II on a ship, and visiting the Arizona Memorial was “something I always wanted to do,” he said Tuesday.
Marshak said she was “bummed a little bit” about not being able to step foot on the memorial.
“Yeah, I kind of wanted to (also), but I had heard in advance that it was closed and it wouldn’t reopen till later in the year,” Little added. “But I still wanted to experience being here.”
The reopening, whatever the date, is “not soon enough, unless it’s — today,” Marshak said with a laugh.
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