BY JIM DOOLEY – The price tag for preparation of the Honolulu rapid transit project’s environmental impact statement was originally $86 million but has since bulged to $156 million, a City spokesman confirmed today.

The contract was awarded in 2007 by Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hanneman to PB Americas, Inc.

The scope of work included preparation of the EIS as well as preliminary engineering plans for the $5.3 billion public works project.

The contract has been extended eight times, according to Bill Brennan of the City’s Rapid Transit Division.

The current value is $156,211,000 and it is due to expire July 11 of this year.

“The contract extensions are the result of delays created by the previous state administration in accepting the final Environmental Impact Statement” as well as “extended preliminary engineering work,” said Brennan.

“The existing contract is expected to end July 1, 2011 which is when the next general engineering contractor should be on board for the next phase of the project,” Brennan said.

The new contract “was expected to occur earlier but it is now in the final procurement stage,” he said.

The rapid transit EIS is at the center of a new lawsuit filed this week in federal court that seeks to halt the project.

Filed by an assortment of well-known public figures, public interest groups and longtime rail opponents, the suit alleges numerous violations of federal and state environmental laws and regulations during the EIS preparation and approval process.

Defendants include a variety of city and and federal officials and agencies.

The City has not yet commented on the suit.

Cliff Slater, one of the plaintiffs and a longtime, vocal opponent of rail, said the cost inflation of the EIS contract “is typical of what happens in these kinds of massive public works projects.”

Today, nine Hawaii federal judges excused themselves from involvement in the federal suit and it was assigned to an out-of-state judge.

“All of the judges in the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii having recused themselves from this case, this case is reassigned … to Judge A. Wallace Tashima for all further proceedings,” Chief District Judge Susan Oki Mollway said in a court order.

Tashima, who is from Hawaii, is a member of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is headquartered in San Francisco.

The “recusals” came after federal judges here objected to the placement of the downtown portion of the elevated railway along Halekauwila Street, adjacent to federal court.

The Halekauwila Street routing, and the court’s objections to it, are cited in the lawsuit as partial grounds for invalidating the EIS.

 

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com