City prevails in lawsuit seeking to block rail project to protect burial sites

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An Oahu judge on Wednesday ruled in favor of the city of Honolulu in a lawsuit seeking to block the multi-billion dollar rail transit project.

The suit filed by Paulette Kaleikini alleged that the city was violating state laws by failing to complete an Archaeological Inventory Survey -- or AIS -- for the entire 20-mile rail corridor before commencing with the project. The plaintiff argued that without a full assessment, construction activity could disturb and cause irreparable harm to cultural and historic sites, such as native Hawaiian burial grounds.

But the city says it is doing the mammoth project in four segments, and that conducting a separate AIS before the start of each phase is not illegal.

The rail project's Programmatic Agreement requires the city to conduct archaeological field work and then submit a summary report to the Historic Preservation Division of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources for approval, before the final design of each phase. The city says it can make adjustments if the AIS identifies burial sites that could be affected.

Circuit Judge Gary Chang ruled that the city is following the law, and that the Programmatic Agreement provides clear instruction on what to do if there is an inadvertent discovery of human remains after construction has begun.

The AIS for the first phase has already been completed.

"We're pleased with the decision," Peter Carlisle, Honolulu mayor, said.  "We will continue to keep rail transit moving in the right direction."

While he sided with the city, the judge also hailed the plaintiff for her "enormous contribution" in reminding government officials that our ancestors command respect.

"It is the hope of the court that you do not feel defeated today," Judge Chang said.

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