Fact check of mayoral debate shows where candidates veered from reality

Published: May. 24, 2012 at 9:34 PM HST|Updated: May. 25, 2012 at 2:19 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – A fact check of Wednesday night's Honolulu mayoral debate on Hawaii News Now found a few instances where the candidates were outright wrong or re-wrote history.

During the first televised debate of Hawaii's political season, Mayor Peter Carlisle touted what he claimed were his achievements on the city's $5.2 billion rail transit system.

"The facts are as follows.  Since I took office, the environmental impact statement was approved, the record of decision was issued and ground for the project was broken.   The project entered final design, the federal transit administrator issued a letter of 'no prejudice,'" Carlisle said, asking former Acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell, "Did you do any of those things?"

While Carlisle is technically correct that those milestones happened while he was mayor, the rail EIS and FTA approvals he talked about came as a result of a multi-year effort that happened during former Mayor Mufi Hannemann's administration, in which Caldwell served as managing director.

Those rail approvals came only a few months into Carlisle's time as mayor, and the people who handled the rail issue for Carlisle were holdovers from Hannemann's cabinet.

Caldwell told Carlisle, "You had nothing to do with it but yet you claimed credit for it.  Many of the actions taken by you were set up by the previous administration that I was a part of."

Carlisle also made a claim about the famous 2006 sewage spill in Waikiki, calling it "the largest sewage spill in state history, 50 million gallons of wastewater into the Ala Wai Canal."

That's not quite right.  The largest sewage spill ever recorded on Oahu was nearly ten times bigger, 471 million gallons from Kailua sewage treatment plant in 1986, according to a Honolulu Advertiser news story from April 1, 2006.  But the Kailua spill was partially treated sewage and the Ala Wai spill was raw sewage, so Ala Wai was likely the biggest raw spill in the state's history.

There were at least nine other Oahu spills of partially treated sewage that ranged from 97 million to 342 million gallons between 1985 and 1991, much larger than the Ala Wai spill, the Honolulu Advertiser reported.

During a discussion of fireworks, former Gov. Ben Cayetano made a claim that raised eyebrows on the neighbor islands.

"Fireworks is not a tradition.  Maui doesn't have fireworks.  I don't think the Big Island has fireworks," Cayetano said, as he explained why he supports a total fireworks ban.

Not true, according to officials on Maui and Hawaii island, where novelty fireworks like fountains, sparklers and flowers are still sold.  Firecrackers are also available in those neighbor island counties if people buy $25 permits for them.

When Caldwell asked Carlisle a question about the possible merger of the city ambulance and fire departments, Caldwell said, "You promised you'd make this happen.  Peter, we can save money and more importantly, lives.  Why aren't we going forward?"

But the claim that the merger could save $10 million is under dispute by city emergency services officials who say it could actually cost at least $10 million.

Dr. James Ireland, director of the city's Emergency Services Department, said the $175,000 study of the potential merger failed to take into consideration the true cost of cross training and the higher pay that cross-trained firefighters and paramedics would earn.

Rail transit supporters are skeptical of Cayetano's claims he could build a bus rapid transit system for less than $1 billion, which was the city's cost estimate nine years ago.

After all, the price of everything has gone up in the nearly decade since that estimate came out in a study conducted for the city by consultants.

But since Cayetano has yet to detail his bus rapid transit plans with specifics about how a system would be funded, how much it would cost, what routes would be covered and what types of vehicles would be used, it's difficult to assess the accuracy of his claims.

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