KAPOLEI (HawaiiNewsNow) - It was billed as a town hall meeting at Kapolei Hale featuring national experts discussing alternatives to Honolulu's rail project. But outside, hundreds rallied to support it.
More than 300 supporters chanted, "Go rail go!" outside before the meeting began. Most of them came from unions touting the jobs the project will create.
"Enough is enough! Let the rail move!," Peter Ganaban of the Hawaii Laborers Union told the crowd. "Take the politics out of the rail and let's move forward. Go rail go!," he started to chant, and the crowd picked it up.
"Now we have these mainland folks who are professional anti-rail critics who come from throughout the United States and talk about rail. They don't know us. They don't live in our community," said Maeda Timson of the group Go Rail Go.
There were also students from James Campbell High School, who said they were belittled by the anti-rail speakers, who they claim told them, "We couldn't understand what was going on because were young, and that's an insult," said student Bryce Kinley. "It is our future, and we're informed."
"I live in Makakilo and I gotta go to Campbell. It takes me like 30 to 45 minutes to get to school. I'm late. What's it gonna be like 30 years from now when I gotta get to work? What's it gonna be? It's ridiculous," said student Britt Daniels.
But city council member Tom Berg, who organized the town hall, said the mainland-based speakers came here on their own, with no cost to the taxpayer, through the American Dream Coalition and the Small Business Hawaii Educational Foundation. "This forum here tonight is finally an opportunity in the short time we have to finally hear, to grasp and take heed to that message out there, that there alternatives out there that were not fully, fully vetted," Berg said.
"Here we are, in a city and county where you are about to pay the most per capita for the building of a rail line in any community in the history of the country," Wendell Cox, a consultant with the group Demographia, said at the town hall. "This is a big deal in a county where you have a five billion dollar sewage problem to deal with and a water problem that will cost an awful lot, and huge pension liabilities."
"The concerns of the costs and the concerns that we cannot afford this really needs to be answered with 'we cannot afford not to do this at this point,'" said Alex Santiago, a former state lawmaker who is running against Berg in this year's city council elections.
Things were heated, especially at the beginning of the forum. Cox and moderator Panos Prevedouros, a former mayoral candidate, were sometimes interrupted by rail supporters.
If anything, the gathering showed that the debate between "go rail" and "no rail" isn't cooling down any.