Council chair wants mitigation money for businesses hurt by rail

Council chair wants mitigation money for businesses hurt by rail

PEARL CITY, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kanoa Dilcher said he makes the best decals in the world.  But nowadays fewer customers are stopping by his shop to see them, driven away by rail construction on Farrington Highway.

"This was the hub, the middle of the island. People flocked to Pearl City. Now people avoid it at all costs," he said.

Dilcher's complaint is multiplied several times over.

"We're only 20 percent into the project, and already a number of businesses are suffering" Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin said.

Martin and council member Carol Fukunaga want to establish a mitigation fund -- $25 million to $30 million that could be doled out in low or no interest loans or grants to businesses to compensate for lost revenue related to rail. Martin said the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation should help find the money.

"It's hard for me to believe that they didn't anticipate the economic impact of the construction of this rail project," he said.

In testimony opposing the council bill as it's written, HART CEO Dan Grabauskas said the Federal Transit Administration will not provide funds for this type of mitigation, and it's unlikely GET surcharge funds or funds anticipated through a surcharge extension can be used.

Martin disagrees with the surcharge statement.

"If it's necessary we can defer accepting the five-year extension and go back to the legislature and ask them for that flexibility so we can utilize it for this fund," he said.

Grabauskas said businesses could benefit later, after rail is built.  But companies from Waipahu to Pearl City argue that they are suffering now, and more will be hurting when rail construction reaches Kalihi and Kakaako.

"This is basically crippling all the small businesses," Dilcher said.  "A fund would be awesome."

He believes it could be the lifeline to keep some small businesses affected by rail from going under.

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