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Protection sought for trees along rail route

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Some members of the City Council plan to hold rail planners more accountable for how they handle the removal and replanting of trees along the 20-mile rail transit route, as well as preventing damage to trees.

The Council’s Parks and Human Services Committee voted yesterday to advance a resolution that would ask the city for updates on its plans to move about 900 trees along the rail route.

The concerns were brought by environmental group The Outdoor Circle, which showed a photo of rail contractor Kiewit working near a tree in the Waipahu area along Farrington Highway.

Bob Loy, the group’s director of environmental programs, said industry standards require perimeter fencing six feet from a tree, but the picture showed contractors placing a pile of rubble and an outhouse near the tree, and a water truck parked next to it.

“As you can see, despite the fact that (the Rapid Transit Division) knows we are watching and the contractor even has an arborist consultant, casualties happen,” Loy said. “We believe it is our job to keep this type of activity to a minimum.”

Wayne Yoshioka, city Transportation Services director, said the city has spoken with the contractor, Kiewit Infrastructure West, and said it was an isolated incident.

“We appreciated that Outdoor Circle helped us by pointing that out,” Yoshioka said. “Our contractor has been talked to pretty severely about doing that again. Hopefully that will remain an isolated incident.”

The resolution originally asked the city to prepare a tree relocation plan; Yoshioka said the city already has done so. City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said, “Even though there’s a plan, the plan is not followed.”

The Council amended the resolution to include a time line of when the city must report on tree relocation and to provide a list of all 900 trees to be moved. The resolution is still subject to a vote by the full Council.

After the hearing, Loy said he’s glad the Council has put the city on notice.

“The fact that the project hasn’t started and we’re already seeing this kind of neglect that has led to the destruction of a couple of trees should be a red flag for everyone that the city needs to pay a little closer attention, and I believe that’s what the Council has ordered the city to do,” Loy said.

On Monday night the City Council, in a special meeting, advanced a bill that would allow the city to issue and sell general obligation bonds for the rail project. The city is seeking $104 million in bonds to get some working capital for the $5.3 billion rail project.

Some residents questioned why the city is seeking the bonds, since the project is supposed to be funded by the general excise tax surcharge and federal funding. But the city stated its intent to use bonds to finance the project in the environmental impact statement and in its financial plans dating back to 2009.

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