Editorial | Our View Editorial: HART relocation program costly Oct. 4, 2019 Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! It was just a month ago that the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation breathed a palpable and cautiously optimistic sigh of relief, announcing long-awaited federal approval of its financial recovery plan for Oahu’s troubled $9 billion rail project. Read more Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser! You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription. Subscribe Now Read this story for free: Watch an ad or complete a survey Log In Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story. Activate Digital Account Print subscriber but without online access? Activate your Digital Account now. It was just a month ago that the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation breathed a palpable and cautiously optimistic sigh of relief, announcing long-awaited federal approval of its financial recovery plan for Oahu’s troubled $9 billion rail project. But now comes another setback, a damning federal report revealing that HART’s property relocation program had botched all but six of its 100 cases before 2017 — shortchanging 16 landowners or tenants bumped by rail construction, and overpaying 28 others, “overpayments which were not properly documented and/or did not have basis for payment.” Because of the shoddy or nonexistent records, HART has returned all of some $4 million in federal relocation dollars, and is now barred from receiving any federal Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act (URA) money. All past and future relocation costs will be paid by Hawaii taxpayers. As of Jan. 19, 2018, that totaled nearly $13.2 million; another 24 relocations remain active, all but one along the pricey City Center route. That’s not all, unfortunately: The 1970 URA law allows records to remain confidential, so while HART will have to retrace and redo all faulty relocations, the public can’t see those records. Another galling revelation: Of HART’s 13-person relocation team, “only six considered themselves to be competent or an expert in their understanding of URA requirements for the real estate acquisition and relocation work.” “It appears that ongoing turnover in HART staff and consultants has resulted in an overall insufficiently experienced staff,” found the Federal Transit Administration report by Hill International, Inc. That means the do-over will necessitate the hiring of about four relocation-qualified staffers, to ensure that protocols are legally followed, including proper payments. It is important to note that the relocation mess was first flagged by HART itself, after top management changed and deficiencies were detected in pre-2017 work. CEO Andrew Robbins, who joined HART in September 2017, self-reported the relocation issues in February 2018 — and a year later, in February 2019, a federal grand jury subpoenaed HART’s relocation files for possible violation of federal law. “Certainly there may have been mistakes, errors, mathematical errors — things of that nature,” Robbins said at the time about that subpoena. “But personally I haven’t seen anything that rises to the level of criminal activity.” Time will tell if that holds true, given the widespread questionable work in the relocations program, as well as likely revelations from two other subpoenas served on HART, plus a few to employees. Whether via criminal proceedings by the grand jury, or legal action prompted by further investigations, culpable parties must be held accountable for their parts in taking rail so wildly off track and over budget. HART is now working with the FTA to develop and execute a corrective action plan “that will ensure that all the individuals and businesses that were relocated as part of the project during the time period reviewed are treated fairly and consistently.” It must submit the plan by Oct. 31 to bring the nearly 100 faulty relocations into compliance, which the FTA wants completed by Sept. 30, 2020. HART says this labor-intensive redo will not affect the timing of its critical public-private partnership (P3) bid for rail’s 4-mile City Center, or any current or future acquisitions or relocations. Talk about optimism. It is hopeful, as HART notes, that eight post-February 2017 relocation cases were done in strict accordance with federal requirements. But it’s still downright offensive, and terribly telling of past practices, that such shoddy and deficient work was even allowed in the first place. Previous Story Letter: Impeachment will test American’s core values Next Story Editorial: New day for DHHL?