Rail lawsuit filed, financial plan updated

Richard Ubersax
Richard Ubersax
Toru Hamayasu
Toru Hamayasu
Walter Heen
Walter Heen
Doug Chin
Doug Chin

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the fifth time the city has released a draft of the financial plan for rail and like the ones before it there's disagreement.

"The administration must provide a sound and credible story if this project is to move to the next phase. We are far from it in this plan," said Richard Ubersax, PhD., concerned citizen who testified before the city council.

"The recent rail financial report we are discussing today should be stamped very risky," said John Brizdle, concerned citizen who testified before the city council.

The city still expects to get $1.55 billion in federal money but disagreement was over the general excise tax and how much it will bring in.

Before the Federal Transit Administration asked for a more robust financial plan something the project manager downplayed.

"It's nothing unique for Honolulu for FTA to say we need another robust plan in the future," testified Toru Hamayasu, Rail Project General Manager.

Hamayasu says if there is a shortfall they do have various plans to come up with the money.

"The one that comes out most effective is the extension of the get surcharge," said Hamayasu.

Managing Director Doug Chin was quick to point out afterwards that there are other alternatives to extending the tax including turning to the private sector or lease financing the rail cars.

"We feel confident we'll be giving the Federal Transit Administration the numbers they need to be able to make their decisions which we anticipate will be in approval," said Chin.

Finances aside, a federal lawsuit could slow the project.  The plaintiffs include former Governor Ben Cayetano, State Senator Sam Slom, Doctor Michael Uechi and retired Judge Walter Heen.  They argue the city only studied the first 20 miles not the full route, the historic properties were accounted for and alternatives to elevated heavy rail weren't properly considered.

"The situation reminds me of my father's definition of a statistician, as anyone who can draw a straight line between an unwarranted assumption and a foregone conclusion," said Heen.

They hired the man who wrote the environmental law to represent them.

"We are absolutely convinced there are feasible and prudent alternative means of transporting people more expeditiously in the Honolulu area which do not involve the environmental and historic impacts which this has," said Nicholas Yost, Environmental Attorney, SNR Denton.

"Any sort of lawsuit that comes in you always have the potential for a delay but I think what we'll be doing is continue doing whatever we can to keep the project moving," said Chin.

Federal judges in Hawaii previously expressed their concerns about the rail project because the elevated tracks go right next to the federal building and could become a terrorist target. One of those was Judge Leslie Kobayashi.  She happens to be the one assigned the case.  They'll have to see if she and the others who complained will recuse themselves.  If so a mainland judge may have to preside on the case.

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