Rail construction began in the vacant ewa fields (photo courtesy of Panos Prevedouros PhD)

BY JIM DOOLEY – Honolulu rapid transit chief Dan Grabauskas told the City Council two weeks ago that 75 per cent of necessary archeological surveys along the rail route remain to be done and won’t be completed until the end of this year.

Rail construction began in the vacant ewa fields (photo courtesy of Panos Prevedouros PhD)

The letter, dated August 13, has taken on new significance since Friday’s court decision that effectively shut down construction of the 20-mile, $5.3 billion rapid transit project pending completion of the surveys. Grabauskas letter

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit (HART) has been following a staggered approach to the survey work along the rail route, beginning construction after surveys were completed on one end of the line but unfinished at the other end.

The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled Friday that the sequential approach violates state law. All the surveys, which are meant to locate and identify historic and culturally significant sites along the rail route, should have been completed before construction began, the court held.

In the aftermath of that decision, HART said yesterday that it was suspending rail construction until completion of the surveys. Grabauskas said he expected the survey work to be completed in the first quarter of next year.

It is not known much money the halt in construction will cost the city.

In his August 13 letter, Grabauskas said only 64 of 272 survey trenches have been dug.

The trenches are excavated in areas where construction of rail support columns, stations and related structures are planned. The surveys are intended to identify ancient Hawaiian burials and other sites of significant cultural importance.

No such sites were uncovered in surveys completed along the first half of the rail route, from Kapolei to the airport, Grabauskas said.

But the areas still to be studied, from the airport to Ala Moana Center, are much richer in cultural significance and discoveries of ancient Hawaiian bones – called iwi kpunua – are expected to be made along the route.

The remaining field work is expected to cost $964,614, Grabauskas said.

The work is being done by Cultural Surveys Hawaii, a local firm which “provides multiple crews” for the surveys, he said.

HART said today it is still discussing an expedited survey schedule and its possible cost.

 

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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