The current $2.3 million project, which aims to restore Waikiki Beach between the Kuhio swimming basin and the Royal Hawaiian groin to its 1985 widths (an average of thirty-seven feet, nearly twice its current average), isn’t the first attempt. Indeed, Lemmo points out, just five years ago the state had a similar renewal project on neighboring Kuhio Beach—a sort of dress rehearsal for the current effort. But there are a couple of important differences, Lemmo says. “On Kuhio Beach we only nourished the protected crib basins; now we’re nourishing open beach.” The crib basin at Kuhio Beach is basically the enclosed swimming area. “The other difference is the quantity of sand. At Kuhio we put down 10,000 cubic yards; this one is 24,000.” Further, the project isn’t going to just widen the beach; it’s going to raise it as well. “The elevation is going to be about six feet, so we’re going to inflate the beach both vertically and horizontally,” says Lemmo.
Although this project is dwarfed by some Mainland beach renewals, which sometimes exceed 200,000 cubic feet of sand, it’s still the largest in Hawai‘i’s history. That creates complications. Royal Hawaiian Beach is almost 1,700 feet long, and for much of that length, beachfront hotels block access. This is also one of the most heavily used stretches of Waikiki Beach, the epicenter of Hawai‘i’s tourism industry. Closing the entire beach for the duration of the renewal project would be a logistical nightmare, but without closure, says Lemmo, “It would be almost impossible to load the sand in trucks and move it down the beach.”
Healy Tibbitts proposed an alternative. Sand would be pumped ashore and piled high in the Kuhio crib basin to dewater. Then the dry sand would be spread, one 200-foot section of beach at a time, using a low-pressure blower. That way, Lemmo says, most of the beach could be kept open at any given time. The whole project was to be finished before May.
Things didn’t turn out that way. In the end the sand blowers didn’t work, and so sand had to be trucked up the beach the oldfashioned way. That meant closing Royal Hawaiian Beach to visitors every morning from 7 a.m. until noon— a “nightmare,” says Lemmo, but one that Hawai‘i tourism officials are convinced will be worth it.