Request for rail rebid turns into rant

Published: Oct. 12, 2011 at 8:48 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 12, 2011 at 10:19 PM HST
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Councilman Tom Berg
Councilman Tom Berg
Joseph Stewart
Joseph Stewart
Andrew Robbins
Andrew Robbins

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A councilmember asks for Kleenex he gets so upset about the rail and it's all because of a $234 million difference in price.

Councilman Tom Berg wants the city to rebid for the rail car contract but city attorney's aren't about to budge.

"It's just frustration. I'm looking at $234 million being flushed down the toilet and we're getting a contractor who doesn't really know how to build rail cars. I'm upset with this!" said Tom Berg, talking about Ansaldo Honolulu, the company city awarded the core systems contract to.

The Budget Committee meeting turned into a rant on rail.  Bombardier's bid to build and operate transit cars was disqualified essentially over a disagreement over liability insurance.

"The city basically asked for a contract for apples and bombardier proposed oranges," said Joseph Stewart, Kobayashi, Sugita & Goda, which represents the City of Honolulu.

Stewart says Bombardier received six different documents about the city's concerns so they should have known.

"Looking at the documents in writing it's clear that Bombardier should have and did understand that because of the fact that..."

"Did we help them to understand that?" asked Ikaika Anderson, Honolulu City Councilmember during testimony.

"Certainly by issuing responses to the questions from bidders stating that the city is not willing to make this change," responded Stewart.

"What we're hearing here is an incredible cover story. Maybe the attorney is doing his job but it's weaving fact and fiction together to try and make it sound good," said Andrew Robbins, Bombardier Vice President. "The city and HART (Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation) staff either did not understand the Hawaii procurement code, which I believe is true, or they felt they could make any decision they wanted."

Robbins argues they had discussions with the city about doors and windows on the trains but the city never mentioned the issue that would disqualify them despite being the lowest bidder.

"They played gotcha, gotcha you're out.  It's wrong. The whole point of that (Hawaii Administrative Rule) is the city is supposed to be an agent for the taxpayer, get the best deal, you don't just throw the best value out because of one sentence you say wait a minute the sentence is no good, we don't like it. We want you, you have a great deal but you need to get rid of that sentence," said Robbins.

He says the city's attorneys don't know the liability law and their contract language is flawed. And they were bringing up the mistakes to prevent a lawsuit down the line.

"We didn't want to make these anti rail critics right that you're going to get all these claims on this project and the costs are going to escalate. We wanted clarity now. We want to get the contract right now," said Robbins.

"If I had a box of Kleenex I would have left the room. I'm in tears. I'm really in tears sir. I can't believe the way the city has treated you. The lawyers are feeding off the trough, the taxpayers trough and I'm livid right now, I'm trying to hold back!" said Berg.

After all that the committee deferred the issue but Bombardier still has options. It can appeal in court.  It also has a pending request with the Federal Transit Administration.

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