Earlier this year Gov. Linda Lingle’s office said it would likely hold hearings on Honolulu’s planned $5.5 billion commuter rail line before the governor signed off on the project.
Many thought the state would hold the hearings after the city put out its final Environmental Impact Statement, which was released June 14.
Instead, the hearings were held in December, January and February.
If you missed them, you’re not alone.
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"We didn’t go. We didn’t know anything about it," said Mary Steiner, chief
executive of the Outdoor Circle, which advocates for preservation of green spaces and view planes in the rail design.
"I’m not aware of the hearings at all," added Robert Harris, director of the Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter. "I would like to think that we would have known about them."
The American Institute of Architects Hawaii Chapter, the environmental group Life of the Land and other rail opponents also said they were not informed of the hearings.
In January, Lingle’s spokesman, Russell Pang, said the state would likely hold hearings on the rail project even though there was no requirement to do so.
But Pang said late last month that the governor never intended to hold "public hearings." Instead, Lingle directed the Office of Environmental Quality Control to hold "informational briefings."
The difference between the two: The informational briefings were not publicized, and no public testimony was solicited or taken.
Pang and Lingle senior policy adviser Linda Smith directed further questions about the nature of those meetings to Katherine Kealoha, director of the OEQC. Kealoha said those gatherings were informational in nature and were not public hearings in the traditional sense.
"Our office has no authority to hold hearings or the budget to hold hearings on the rail project," Kealoha said.
Notice of the meetings was sent out by e-mail to a list of fewer than 1,000 addresses of people and agencies that communicate with the OEQC office via e-mail, Kealoha said.
The purpose of the meetings was to provide information about the state’s environmental impact law generally and in relation to the city’s rail project. City and state transportation officials were sometimes present to help answer questions about rail, Kealoha said.
As many as 80 people attended one meeting.
Lingle also held a rail forum in January that was widely publicized. Hundreds of proponents and opponents crowded the Capitol auditorium, forcing the organizers to set up a second viewing area for those wanting to watch a presentation by the AIA-Hawaii Chapter on street-level rail.
At that time, Lingle spokesman Pang said the Capitol event cost the state almost nothing.
Kealoha acknowledged that her hearings did not draw similar crowds or attention.
"It was absolutely nothing like that," Kealoha said. "I did not have the finances to do it properly."
The meetings were run with the help of volunteers and took place in Kunia, Kalihi and downtown.
While the state has no plans for public hearings on rail, the Honolulu City Council will have a rail hearing in July or August. Five Council members wrote a letter to Council Chairman Todd Apo insisting that a public hearing on the plan take place last October.
That hearing was delayed until after the release of the EIS.
Apo said there will be notice well in advance so that the public and media can attend.