Tuesday, November 24, 2015         

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Council approves pivotal rail permit

By Gene Park


The city has cleared the final major environmental hurdle for it to begin construction of Honolulu's rail project.

The City Council awarded a Special Management Area permit that allows the $5.5 billion project to be built near coastal management zones.

The Council approved the permit 8-0 yesterday with Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi withholding her vote, which was registered as an "aye." Councilman Romy Cachola was absent.

"It (the permit) allows us to technically break ground, and it clears the way for all the other permits we need to get," said Wayne Yoshioka, interim Department of Transportation Services director.

Of the project's 20 miles, 1.6 miles are within coastal management areas.

The permit is likely to be the last requiring Council approval. The project still needs several others that will be handled directly through the city Department of Permitting and Planning.

City officials have said they expect to break ground on the project in March. Last week, the Federal Transit Administration issued a record of decision, clearing the project to begin relocating utilities and negotiating property acquisition.

David Frankel of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. voiced the group's opposition to the permit because of the city's plan to conduct archaeological inventory surveys in phases rather than before the entire project begins.

The group's concern stems from the likely scenario that burial sites will be found in the Kakaako area, where the fourth phase of the project will run through.

The programmatic agreement between various state and federal agencies requires that an archaeological survey be conducted prior to construction of a phase.

Councilman Tom Berg asked why the city couldn't do a survey on the fourth phase before breaking ground on the project.

"We've already engaged in segment one in terms of an AIS (archaeological inventory survey), as well as segment two," Yoshioka said in an interview. "Because of the concerns we've heard, we're going to accelerate segment four's survey ahead of three."


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