City's rail rendering
City's rail rendering

Ninth Circuit Court Senior Judge A. Wallace Tashima, who is overseeing a federal lawsuit filed by seven plaintiffs against the City & County of Honolulu and the FTA challenging the validity of the Environmental Impact Statement for the city’s $5.3 billion elevated steel on steel rail system, ruled in favor of the defendants today on one motion.

Tashima’s decision reduces the number of recreational and historic site claims the plaintiffs can make from more than 40 to less than 10.

Dan Grabauskas, Executive Director and CEO of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, said the decision is significant and positive because it narrows the litigation. “We appreciate the court’s well-reasoned analysis,” Grabauskas said.

Specifically the ruling removes Piers 10/11, the PacificWar Memorial Site, the Makalapa Navy Housing Historic District, the Hawaii Employers Council, the Tamura Building, Ke‘ehi Lagoon Beach Park, Queen Street Park from the lawsuit.

According to a HART release, “the court dismissed additional claims with respect to the Pearl Harbor Landmark and the Merchant Street Historic District because the plaintiffs had waived them by failing to properly raise their concerns during the environmental review process.”

Honolulu Transportation expert Cliff Slater, who organized the federal lawsuit and is one of the plaintiffs, said the ruling is not significant and won’t stop the lawsuit from going forward. He said the core of the lawsuit, which challenges the impact of the rail on historical sites in Downtown Honolulu, is still intact.

Slater said: “The City’s PR release today that the Judge’s ruling is a ‘significant’ ruling is totally overblown. What is ‘significant’ is that our most important claims that, a) the City/FTA did not properly evaluate transportation alternatives under either Section 4(f) or NEPA, and, b) our most important sites Chinatown, Aloha Tower, Dillingham Building, Native Hawaiian burials, etc., all remain in play.”

Slater added: “The fact that they won on peripheral sites such as the Hawai‘i Employers Council building and the Makalapa Navy Housing Historic District, has little impact on our core claim, to wit, the City/FTA did not rigorously study transportation alternatives that avoid severely impacting the city’s downtown historic waterfront area.”

In addition to Slater, other plaintiffs include Former Gov. Ben Cayetano, University of Hawaii Law Professor Randall Roth, Retired Judge Walter Heen, Sen. Sam Slom’s Small Business Hawaii Education Foundation, Dr. Michael Uechi and Hawaii’s Thousand Friends.

The city said in a statement it’s attorneys will seek to formally dismiss remaining claims by a separate motion.

The lawsuit will be heard in federal court on August 21, 2012.

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