Frustrating visitors, travel advisors and tour providers alike, a second straight Memorial Day passed with the main portion of the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor closed.
The memorial is one of Hawaii's most popular attractions with approximately 4,000 visitors daily, and for many U.S. travelers it is an important part of their Hawaii itinerary.
Walk-on visitation to the USS Arizona Memorial was suspended in May 2018, when damage to the concrete ramp leading to the memorial was discovered and further inspection found the dock's anchoring system was flawed and posed a safety issue.
Originally, repairs were scheduled to be complete by October 2018, but that date came and went with few progress updates, and the completion date was moved back to May 2019.
Finally, in March, the National Park Service announced a $2.1 million contract had been awarded for repairs that are expected to be completed by Dec. 7, 2019, the 78th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The National Park Service said the delay stemmed in part from the complexity of the project, investigating the cause of the damage, designing the needed repairs, and moving through the federal contracting process.
"A project of this scope and complexity would normally take three to four years to plan and complete, but we've been able to get to this point in the project in less than a year" due to the work of the National Park Service, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force and several contractors, said Jacqueline Ashwell, superintendent of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, which oversees the Arizona Memorial.
The National Park Service said the repairs should be completed "by fall 2019," but has not offered a specific date for the restoration of public access. During the closure, visitors can take a narrated, 30-minute boat tour of Pearl Harbor's Battleship Row, the target of Japanese planes in 1941.
"We get questions about Pearl Harbor tours every day," said Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays, which sells tour and activity packages through affiliate Pleasant Activities. "The current Pearl Harbor tour takes guests on the boat close to the USS Arizona; however, they cannot board the memorial, which is a huge disappointment from a historical perspective."
Roughly 10% to 15% of travelers contacting Pleasant Activities, once told of the closure and modified tour, choose not to visit Pearl Harbor, Richards said.
"Many of these guests are baby boomers and multigenerational families with relatives who served during WWII, so this is a huge disappointment, as many may never return to Hawaii again," Richards said. "We believe some people decide not to vacation in Hawaii due to the closure of the USS Arizona Memorial, although this is difficult to calculate."
The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center will remain open during repairs and visitors can still access partner sites including the Battleship Missouri Memorial, Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum and the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park.
The USS Arizona Memorial was dedicated on May 30, 1962, sitting above the sunken wreckage of the battleship. The ship's hull is the final resting place for 1,177 of the ship's crew of 1,512 who were aboard the warship when Japanese aircraft attacked.
The current tour of the USS Arizona Memorial consists of a 25-minute documentary on the Pearl Harbor attack and a 15-minute narrated harbor tour of Battleship Row and the area around the USS Arizona Memorial. From the boats, visitors can see some of the wreck of USS Arizona and take photographs of the memorial.
During a U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meeting reviewing President Donald Trump's nominee for head of the Interior Department, David Bernhardt, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono expressed concern over the delays, and asked for regular updates moving forward.
"You can imagine the millions of people who are very disappointed -- including the 2,000 or so World War II veterans who plan their visits to Hawaii based on going to this memorial," Hirono said during the March 28 hearing.
Tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial program are available on a walk-in, same-day, first-come-first-served basis at the visitor center ticket desk, or online at www.recreation.gov. Admission to the memorial is free, but there is a $1 per-ticket fee for reservations.