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Judge hears arguments on rail project lawsuit

By Star-Advertiser staff

LAST UPDATED: 12:36 p.m. HST, Dec 12, 2012

A federal judge heard arguments this morning and said he will rule shortly on whether to issue a court order halting the city’s $5.26 billion rail project linking East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center.

A. Wallace Tashima, a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judge here to preside over the case, did not indicate whether he would grant an injunction that would effectively halt the project or a more limited order requested by the city that would halt work on the final downtown segment of the rail line.

Tashima ruled on Nov. 1 that environmental and cultural reviews for the project did not comply with federal transportation laws aimed at protecting parks and historic sites.

He ruled the city must reconsider an alternative of constructing a tunnel under Beretania Street and the impact of the project on Mother Waldron Park in Kakaako.

The judge also ruled the city must identify traditional and cultural Native Hawaiian sites along the route and evaluate whether they can be preserved and the project’s impact minimized.

Tashima, however, did not issue an injunction halting the project and scheduled the hearing today hear arguments on whether he should issue such an order and the scope of it.

The group that filed the federal lawsuit is asking Tashima to set aside the Federal Transit Administration’s record of decision that the city must supplement because of his Nov. 1 ruling.

At most, it would temporarily delay the project, the group maintains.

In addition, the group is asking Tashima to block the $1.55 billion federal funding for the project until the city complies with the judge’s ruling.

The group includes former Gov. Ben Cayetano, longtime rail opponent Cliff Slater and Hawaii’s Thousand Friends.

City and federal lawyers are urging Tashima to limit any injunction to work on the project’s fourth phase through downtown Honolulu.

In their court papers, city attorneys said Daniel Grabauskas, executive director for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, estimated that an injunction halting all construction could delay the completion of the project by seven months.

Construction has already been halted as a result of a Hawaii Supreme Court decision in August that held the city must complete an archaeological survey of the entire project before starting construction.

City attorneys said a federal injunction halting construction would increase the project’s cost beyond the costs associated with the high court’s ruling.

Grabauskas estimated that the additional cost of the project to be $149 million, city attorneys said.

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