Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Oahu Citizens on Rail Dispute’s Sidelines Must Wonder, ‘’How Much of All This Is Believable?’ Opponents’ Media Statements Raise Eyebrows

Nothing in today’s post or any Yes2Rail post about the lawsuit that aims to stop Honolulu rail is based on “insider” information. This is a pro-rail website, but we’re in no position to evaluate or comment on the statements made by attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendants in court.

We’re on the outside – just like the 99.9999 percent of Oahu residents who have nothing to do with the case, and it’s on the outside where the plaintiffs are continuing their public relations campaign against rail that began in August. We have to take on face value what attorneys for both sides say in front of the federal judge, but what rail opponents say to the media is another matter.

The space outside the courtroom is the plaintiffs’ Spin Zone, and yesterday’s ruling by Judge A. Wallace Tashima provided another opportunity for them to work the media and therefore the public.

In court, Judge Tashima denied the defendants’ motion to remove several plaintiffs from the case based on the city’s claim they failed to participate in several years of rail’s environmental impact statement and other processes. The judge said the argument is “premature” since the entire record of the administrative proceedings is still being compiled. The city says half a million documents are involved and that it will renew the motion once the judge has the complete record before him.

Outside federal court, plaintiff attorney Nicolas Yost called the ruling “a complete victory and a confirmation that the city/county motion was a waste of the court’s time and the taxpayers’ money,” according to the anti-rail Hawaii Reporter blog. Rail opponent Cliff Slater accused the city and Federal Transit Administration of intentionally “dragging their feet” to drive up the plantiffs’ expenses in paying Yost and his team. Plaintiff Ben Cayetano said the same: “I think they knew as well as we did that they had little chance of winning that motion, and we had to spend attorneys’ fees just to rebut the motion.”

It’s all spin, of course, since it’s based on nothing more than the plaintiffs’ predictable opinions that they hope will influence the public once they see media coverage generated in their Spin Zone. There’s plenty of reason to treat these statements with a grain of salt. Independent online news source Civil Beat found little truth in the Gang of Four’s August 21st newspaper commentary.

Examining the Record
The plaintiffs’ lawsuit charges the city with failing to properly evaluate all the alternatives to a steel-on-steel system built on an elevated guideway above surface traffic. It also alleges disregard for Oahu’s historic and cultural sites, failure to deal with noise issues, improper route evaluation and other deficiencies.

With the FTA monitoring the city’s progress every step of the way, it’s implausible that the city would have been careless and deficient during the long process leading to route and alternative selection, but readers can judge for themselves.

The record is available for examination at the project’s website. A search for “noise” finds the word on 78 pages of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS); “cultural” is on 100 pages, “historic” on 179, “alternatives” on 119, “route” on 80 and “environment” on 481.  Those are pages, not the number of actual mentions in the FEIS.

A random search for “alternatives" finds this paragraph from Chapter 8, page 23 in the FEIS; it deals with a favorite of some architects and others in the community – at-grade transit on a route that includes Hotel Street in downtown Honolulu:

“The Alternatives Analysis Report evaluated the alignment alternatives based on transportation benefits, environmental and social impacts, and overall benefits and cost considerations. The report found that an at-grade alignment along Hotel Street would require the acquisition of more parcels and could affect more burial sites than any of the other alternatives. The alignment with an at-grade operation Downtown and a tunnel through the Hawaii Capital Historic District (under King Street) was not selected because of the environmental effects, such as impacts to cultural resources, reduction of street capacity, and property acquisition requirements of the at-grade and tunnel sections, would cost an additional $300 million. Of the remaining elevated alignments that were studied, the Alternatives Analysis concluded than an elevated alignment along Nimitz Highway would have less visual impacts than one along Queen Street because of its much wider right-of-way and location along the edge of the Hawaii Capital Historic District.”
That’s typical of the FEIS. The plaintiff’s assertion that alternatives were not evaluated isn’t remotely plausible when the FEIS is filled with detailed descriptions of why an elevated guideway was chosen and the alternatives were rejected. The same is true about noise and visual impacts, historic and cultural preservation and other issues the plaintiffs say were not explored properly during the rail process.

This case may last until next summer or later, giving the plaintiffs dozens of opportunities to continue their PR offensive in the Spin Zone, a tactic than can be pretty offensive, indeed.

No comments: