Friday, October 30, 2009

Honolulu Mayor Accepts Groundbreaking Delay on Rail Project To Provide for a Complete Review

Mayor Mufi Hannemann at his State of the Rail address.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s major rail-oriented address yesterday was a summary of earlier false starts on grade-separated projects here that have given way to the recent four years of progress to finally build a system.

Announcing a willingness to delay groundbreaking “for at least a month” beyond the late-2009 scheduled event, Hannemann said the delay will “allow the appropriate federal, state, and community organizations to cross the T’s and dot the I’s to bring to fruition what House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair, Congress Jim Oberstar, has described as ‘the most exciting transportation project in the nation.’…”

“But while I’m willing to wait to address these environmental matters, the longer we delay, the greater the chance the money will go away. The longer we delay, the greater the economic disarray. I speak, of course, of some in the state Legislature and administration desperately searching for a way out of their budget woes and eyeing our transit tax revenues as an easy take-away.”

Avoiding the Kibosh

Hannemann alluded to a final legal hurdle the project must surmount – acceptance of the Final Environmental Impact Statement by Governor Linda Lingle, as required by law for government-driven projects:

“By rejecting the EIS, the state could put the kibosh on our work and end four years of Herculean effort. Governor Lingle said recently—in reference to the Superferry and other projects—that groups oppose things, but rarely offer alternatives. She said, and I quote, ‘There were consequences for the political leadership here not stepping up and coming out strong and saying, We need this. If there were steps that weren’t followed, let’s get that handled; but we’re for this alternative for our people.’”

As remarkable as it may seem, the Governor could kill the project by drawing an X across it, even after all the T’s and I’s have been crossed and dotted.

Maintaining the Legacy

It’s hard to imagine she’d do that. As things stand now, her legacy would appear to be the state’s relatively recent positioning vis-à-vis agreements and procedures to advance renewable energy development and reduce Hawaii’s crippling dependence on imported oil – something the rail project will help accomplish.

A refusal to accept the FEIS would put a different spin on the Lingle legacy – no doubt about it.

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