Environmental attorney hired to fight Honolulu rail

Nicholas Yost
Nicholas Yost
Peter Carlisle
Peter Carlisle
Ben Cayetano
Ben Cayetano

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Rail opponents have added an attorney to their arsenal who helped write national environmental laws.  Cliff Slater, the chair of HonoluluTraffic.com, has hired Nicholas Yost, who he calls the best environmental attorney in the country to sue the City and County of Honolulu and the Federal Transit Administration.  But will he be enough to stop the $5.5 billion project in its tracks?

"Its sort of ready, fire, aim," said Nicholas Yost, SNR Denton Partner.

It's that approach to the Honolulu rail transit that left holes in the project.  Nicholas Yost says environmental laws were made to stop projects like the Honolulu rail transit.  He argues the rail route should have been reviewed in full all at once.  Instead the city broke it up into segments and didn't fully study the three future extensions to Waikiki, UH Manoa and East Kapolei.

Yost also says the route doesn't bypass historical sites when it can and that alternatives to elevated heavy rail weren't properly studied.

"You have to look at alternative ways of doing things. That means you don't drop off alternatives. You don't not consider them fully or just put them behind you. You study them such that each gets equal treatment. That didn't happen," said Yost.

The city isn't commenting on the lawsuit since it hasn't been filed yet.  But at the rail groundbreaking last month the mayor brushed off talk of lawsuits.

"You can't breathe without getting lawsuits, some of you poor people probably haven't had a lawsuit or two. I can't even count them I get so happy that if I go one month without a lawsuit I figure I'm asleep. They'll do that, they'll bring anything, they'll complain," said Peter Carlisle, February 22 when asked about the threat of lawsuits by rail opponents.

"I know Peter I made the mistake of supporting him in the election in which I will not do again.  He sounds like the little boy whistling in the dark," said Former Governor Ben Cayetano, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.  "I'm disappointed that Mayor Carlisle has not been more careful, more judicious. Maybe it's his experience, he spent 20 years throwing people in jail, and he never analyzed a project like this by himself."

"This is all political as far as I'm concerned. That's the problem with this project it's driven more by politics than by sound engineering," continued Cayetano.

Governor Cayetano didn't hold back when talking about the Federal Transit Administration either.

"The FTA has a history of cost overruns averaging 40 percent. If they were a private company they'd be out of business but they're in the government so I guess its okay," said Cayetano.

They're suing for a supplemental environmental impact statement reviewing all reasonable alternatives, something that could put the city and the project back at square one.  They're confident they'll win and if not the appeal would go to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"The 9th Circuit is probably the most environmentally friendly in the United States," said Yost.

Hiring an attorney like Yost takes money.  HonoluluTraffic.com needs to raise $200,000.  It has $90,000 so far.  At this point Yost said he isn't worried about getting paid.

They plan to file the lawsuit in the next three to four weeks.  The lawsuit is expected to take months before it's resolved.  As to whether the city proceed with rail plans while the lawsuit is going on, that will be up to a judge.

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