HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The rail project hits a major setback. Construction will be delayed but for how long remains to be seen. This after the State Supreme Court ruled against the city and its fragmented effort to find iwi kupuna or ancestral bones along the rail route.
Paulette Kaleikini sued the city over its handling of Native Hawaiian burial remains. The city broke up the rail route into four segments and believed it could start construction on the phases where archaeological survey work was complete. However the court ruled the work must be complete along the entire 20 mile route first.
The city must now complete a full study on Hawaiian remains and other cultural artifacts before construction on the $5.3 billion project can continue.
The ruling left city leaders and rail proponents feeling like they got hit by a train.
"Certainly we are disappointed that this temporary setback is facing the project at a time we've started construction but we're responsible to follow the law," said Dan Grabauskas, Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) CEO.
HART still has more than 200 trenches to dig near the airport and urban Honolulu where it will look for iwi kupuna. Originally that work wasn't projected to be done for another seven months. That would be a huge delay so HART will try and speed up the search for the ancestral bones.
"This is a temporary setback but I make no bones about the fact that to the degree that delays are a result from this ruling and delays will cost money," said Grabauskas.
Grabauskas says construction going on now out in Kapolei will continue. But a Thursday HART board meeting could change that.
"Where there are not ground disturbing activities we are certainly going to continue," said Grabauskas.
"In a construction project you don't just drop your hammers and walk off the site. You have to demobilize in some responsible manner," said Gary Takeuchi, attorney for the City.
If the city does continue work plaintiffs have said they will seek an injunction from the court to order all rail work to stop.
"Based on the Supreme Court ruling they cannot do any construction that would violate the land. And we want to hear from them by Monday morning letting us know whether they are going to do so, whether they will stop construction or whether we have to file necessary motions with the court," said David Frankel, Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. Attorney.
The city also isn't sure how the ruling will affect the $1.5 billion it's trying to get now from the federal government. Of the three lawsuits against rail, observers thought this suit was the least likely to go against the city. It's also unknown if today's ruling will affect the federal case that was just heard on Tuesday.
"We'll see. Obviously we'd like to win them all but we'll deal with the decision as it's come out," said Takeuchi. "I think you have to be prepared for all possibilities. We were disappointed. We thought we had good arguments, the Circuit Court agreed with us things happen and we have to deal with that."
When asked if this was reminiscent of the Superferry Grabauskas said no mainly because the environmental aspect of the train was accepted but not the archaeological part. Furthermore the Superferry was shut down. Grabauskas says the rail's delay is temporary.
Right after HART's news conference the attorneys for the city and plaintiff's together walked to a meeting to talk about the next stop for the train.