HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Federal judge today ruled that the city's plan to develop the $5.3 billion rail transit system "arbitrarily" failed to identify native Hawaiian cultural properties and did not adequately address at least one alternative route for the system.
But Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Wallace Tashima stopped short of issuing a permanent injunction stopping all construction on the project. Tashima said he will hear further argument whether such an injunction is needed.
"The fact that he is not stopping it, and we are allowed to go forward and that the EIS is good, when I say this is great news for rail, people, you'd better believe it," said Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle during a news conference on the steps of Honolulu Hale.
"We are pleased to see that the judge ruled in favor of the City on 20 of the 23 remaining issues, and flatly rejected the vast majority of the plaintiff's claims. The project remains on course," said HART executive director and CEO Daniel Grabauskas.
"What we're really talking about here is supplementing some of the work that was included in the record of decision and the environmental impact statement," Grabauskas said.
"I think those are real victories because as you know, the argument from the other side all the way along was that it was not properly reviewed. And so the court has disagreed," said mayoral candidate and rail supporter Kirk Caldwell.
Attorney Bill Meheula represents Faith Action for Community Equity, the Pacific Resource Partnership, and Melvin Uesato, who were defendants in the federal lawsuit. He issued a statement on the three issues upheld by the judge: "Judge Tashima's ruling on Traditional Cultural Properties will likely not lead to an injunction because recent studies show no additional TCPs will be adversely affected by the project. The Court's ruling on the Beretania Tunnel will result in further studies that will show that like the King Street tunnel is also too costly. Finally, the Mother Waldron Park ruling will result in a further study that will likely find that the project is compatible with rail. In summary, the judge's rulings are relatively minor and would not have stopped construction."
However, rail opponents also claimed victory in the ruling.
"(The) court found them having violated the law on three issues. And the fact is that in December, there'll be the sentencing, so to speak," said Caldwell's opponent former Gov. Cayetano, who was one of the plaintiffs who filed the federal lawsuit. He referred to a court hearing scheduled for December 12, in which the two sides can argue before the judge whether the court can halt the project.
Rail opponent Panos Prevedouros also said even if the project isn't halted, it certainly will be delayed. "At a minimum the city needs to do a supplementary EIS, which will take at least one year," he said.
Prevedouros also dismissed the city claiming victory for having 20 counts dismissed in the lawsuit. "It's a silly numbers game. Every time you've been indicted with multiple counts, if one count sticks, you go to jail. City goes to jail."
"These guys never quit spinning anything. This is just another example of how this project has been so badly mismanaged and has cost the public millions of dollars," said Cayetano.