Thursday, May 20, 2010

Editorial: Community Still Supports Honolulu Rail; Civil Beat Conducts Project Fact-Finding Mission

Yesterday’s criticism of the Honolulu Advertiser’s rail coverage still stands, but today’s editorial goes a long way in restoring our faith in the paper as a valued journalistic voice. Editorials in the Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin have never wavered in supporting Honolulu rail, and today’s editorial adds much-needed perspective on what is shaping up as a City-State confrontation.

Governor Lingle insists on doing a financial review of the project, but as Mayor Hannemann’s press release on GET revenues noted yesterday, the Federal Transit Administration has contracted with independent overseers that have given thumbs up to the City’s financial plan. From the editorial:

“Even someone who gives her credit for doing her due diligence before signing off on the project has got to wonder about this move…. So there’s really no purpose for Lingle’s planned set of public hearings, is there?”

The paper’s answer to that question boils down to one word: politics. “More hearings would provide a forum for critics of rail to hammer the project, as well as its champion, just as Hannemann is campaigning.” The editorial ends: “From the results of the 2008 election, and from every credible poll we’ve seen, the community still supports rail.”

‘This is not Mufi’s train.’

That’s the headline above this morning’s take-out piece by Civll Beat editor John Temple. He and CB’s Honolulu reporter Treena Shapiro visited City Hall two days ago on a rail project fact-finding mission, and Temple’s Internet-length piece tells what they heard. It’s good reading for anyone curious about rail’s status.

Temple’s piece runs nearly 1500 words and has a stream-of-consciousness feel to it that newspaper stories rarely approach. In its first four weeks, Civil Beat’s coverage has looked to us like a stand-in for what the average citizen, if given a chance, might ask newsmakers about the major issues in our state.

The City’s dispute with the governor is discussed, as well it might be since it’s shaping up as the key go-no go issue as the planning process winds down. From Temple’s article:

“’(Governor Lingle) is the accepting authority,’ (Managing Director Kirk) Caldwell says. ‘There’s no requirement that she accept or that she must accept.’ But he then goes on to question why she thinks she needs her own financial analysis, when the state isn’t on the hook for the project and financial analysis is not part of the EIS process.”

Temple writes that Caldwell cites the three separate financial studies already required by the FTA.

“’All three came back and said we were in the ballpark,’ he says. What Lingle should be doing is determining whether the city followed the law and looked at the impacts of the project and addressed them, Caldwell says. Impacts are the issue, not the financial plan. Finances, he says, are not a valid reason for her to reject the project.”

Temple’s piece covers other major issues, including Native Hawaiian concerns for remains that might be encountered in the project’s construction. Near the end, he quotes Caldwell again:

“’This is not Mufi’s train.’ From this discussion, that’s obvious. The people in the room have dedicated countless hours to studying the rail project, to explaining it, to pitching it and to listening to concerns about it. It’s theirs. They own it.
“At the end of our conversation, I can’t say that their plan is the perfect solution. But there’s no doubt as I head out into the now quiet Honolulu Hale that they’re ready to take more slings and arrows, if only they can get construction underway and prove their critics wrong. That, they seem sure, will be certain.”

Again, here’s the link to the Civil Beat piece.

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