The Sierra Club is the only environmental group that has advocated for the controversial elevated steel on steel rail system. Its leaders claim the rail is a more environmentally friendly transportation alternative over cars.
Several other high profile environmental organizations have opposed the project, saying the 20-mile steel giant will destroy Oahu’s environment, prime farm land and Hawaiian cultural sites.
While rail authority officials have claimed the rail will remove some 40,000 trips a day from the roadways, Cliff Slater of HonoluluTraffic.com notes that is just over 1 percent of the 3 million total trips Oahu drivers take a day.
Behind the scenes, several environmental groups have battled with the Sierra club to stop its leaders from once again endorsing the rail project or backing a mayoral candidate that supports the rail.
In the end, the Sierra club did not endorse any of the three mayoral candidates, including Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle or former managing director Kirk Caldwell, who are pro-rail, or former Gov. Ben Cayetano, who is opposed to rail.
In an announcement about the decision, the Sierra Club said: “Unfortunately we believe none of the candidates has yet put all the pieces together,” said Anthony Aalto, Chair of the Sierra Club, Oahu Group. “Honolulu needs a mayor who is both committed to keeping the country, country and who understands the urgency of developing the modern infrastructure needed to ensure most new growth will occur in Honolulu’s traditional urban core.”
Now, a newly formed Hawaii Environmental Coalition, which includes dozens of environmental advocates from across Oahu, has made its own announcement – they are backing Cayetano for mayor.
Pearl Johnson, spokesperson for the Hawaii Environmental Coalition, says the alliance is deeply alarmed by threat the rail poses to Oahu’s natural resources including prime Oahu farmland.
As governor, Cayetano played a key role in preserving Sandy Beach in East Oahu from development, as well as Kauai’s Lumahai beaches and the rim of historic Kealakekua Bay on the Island of Hawaii, Johnson said. She notes Cayetano was twice endorsed for governor by the Hawaii Sierra Club.
Johnson said the ad hoc coalition came together to raise a strong environmental voice in this year’s election, which is pivotal in determining the future of Oahu. (see: Signatures of New Environmental Coalition Members Endorsing Cayetano)