Honolulu to Supreme Court: Let Us Keep Building Rail

Not so fast.

That’s what officials from the city and county of Honolulu are saying to the Hawaii Supreme Court after an August ruling that effectively halted construction on the $5.26 billion rail project.

In paperwork filed this week, the city and its attorneys say the high court should reconsider its determination that archaeological survey work was supposed to have been completed for the entire project before construction work began.

As a result, they say construction on the rail line should resume.

The high court ruled that the beleaguered State Historic Preservation Division erred when telling the city it could split the work up into four phases.

SHPD had told the city that as long as the survey work was done in one phase of the project — and subsequently approved by the agency — construction could proceed in that section.

But now city officials are saying there aren’t any statutes or rules that would prohibit a project from being phased.

They also contend that the word “project” is a broad term, and that “the Court did not conclude that SHPD exceeded its authority in determining that a construction phase could be a ‘project.’”

And in an argument that was heard during a separate federal court case involving rail, the city says that by doing the archeological surveys in phases actually protects Native Hawaiian burial sites.

"The phased approach approved in the (programmatic agreement) was intended to and does in fact afford iwi kupuna greater protection by focusing invasive sub-surface testing in Phase 4 (in Honolulu’s downtown core) to only those areas where actual ground disturbing construction would occur, and avoiding unnecessary disturbance to burials that may exist in areas that would not otherwise be disturbed through construction."

So far the city has only completed about 25 percent of the survey work to find Native Hawaiian burial grounds.

It has completed this work in areas of West Oahu were concrete rail columns are being built. Officials say no burial sites have been found.

Nick Grube

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