photo by Carroll Cox, estudios Hawaii copyright 2009
HONOLULU RAIL PROJECT
Rail Construction To Begin by End of 2009?
In an article about the rail project in the October 23, 2009 Honolulu
Advertiser, it was reported, “The next opportunity for the Council to pass the
Resolution [pertaining to historic resources and preservation issues] would be
November 16. That would leave the City with just seven weeks to gain all
other approvals needed to begin construction by year¹s end.”
EIS Is Not Yet Complete, and Project Is Within the SMA
So Mayor Hannemann wants to start constructing the rail system before the end
of this year? First of all, the required Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”)
is not complete.
In addition, portions of the transit corridor are within the Special Management
Area (“SMA”), and a Major SMA Permit must be processed and approved the City
Council before any construction can begin.
Is Concurrent Processing of EIS and SMA Permit Possible?
Chapter 25, Revised Ordinances of Honolulu (“ROH”), there may be concurrent
processing of required environmental disclosure documents and the SMA Major
Permit. Section 25-3.3(c)(1), Procedural Guidelines states, “Any
development which has been assessed under the National Environmental Policy Act
or under HRS Chapter 343, and for which a negative declaration has been filed
or a required EIS has been accepted may apply directly for a Special Management
Area Use permit pursuant to Section 25-5.1 to waive the assessment procedures
in subsection (b) of this section.”
From our understanding of Chapter 25 and the status of the EIS, a negative
declaration has not been filed, and the EIS has not been accepted, so this
project cannot be processed concurrently with the SMA Major Permit. The
EIS must be accepted, and then published by the Office of Environmental Quality
Control before the City can apply for the SMA Major permit. So how can
Mayor Hannemann think he can start construction before the end of this year?
It simply does not seem possible, if laws are followed.
In addition to the fact that there is no completed Final Environmental
Assessment (“FEIS”) and no approved SMA Major Permit, we believe there are
other problems associated with the project’s compliance with environmental
Missing Elements in the Draft EIS
The rail project is still in the Draft EIS phase. We have reviewed the
Draft EIS, and we found that there are serious deficiencies with the visual
impact study for the project. Under Chapter 205A, Coastal Zone Management
(“CZM”), Section 205A-2, Objectives of the CZM Program, Scenic Resources must
be identified in the CZM area. Remember, this will be an elevated rail
system, reaching heights of 60 feet or more, and there is a potential to
destroy our beautiful scenic views of the ocean.
What Viewplanes Must Be Included in the Analysis?
Under Section 205A-26, SMA Guidelines, it states, “The authority shall seek to
minimize, where reasonable, any development which would substantially interfere
with or detract from the line of sight toward the sea from the state highway
nearest the coast.” That might lead one to think that only the views
from the highway should then be studied and included in the EIS. However,
that is not the case.
Chapter 205A requires that new developments are compatible with their visual
environment by designing and locating such developments to minimize the
alteration of natural landforms and existing public views to and along the
shoreline. It says nothing about limiting the study to views
from the highway.
Moreover, under Hawaii Administrative Rules (“HAR”), Title 11, Department of
Health, Chapter 200, EIS Rules, Section 11-200-12, Significance Criteria, it
states, “In most instances, an action shall be determined to have a significant
effect on the environment if it substantially affects scenic vistas and
viewplanes identified in county or state plans or studies.” One
such county study, the Coastal View Study, prepared for the Department
of Land Utilization in 1987, was undertaken to address the issue of “preserving,
maintaining, and where desirable, improving and restoring shoreline open spaces
and scenic resources.”
Coastal View Study
The scope of the Coasstal View Study included an inventory of
significant coastal views and coastal landforms, which together make up the
shoreline scenic resources of Oahu. The study includes views from public
viewpoints and coastal roadways within the SMA. In Section 2.2.1,
Summary, the Coastal View Study states, “The interplay between the objectives
and guidelines can best be illustrated in the example of evaluating projects
which lie between the line of sight toward the sea from
the state highway.” Taken literally, the guideline would suggest that
the interest is solely in protecting current views from the highway,
however, the objective for Scenic and Open Space Resources is very broad
in its implication and the opportunity to restore and improve is equally as
important as protecting and preserving existing views. Therefore, in
examining projects within the SMA, the opportunity to create new view corridors
or improve existing views should also be examined.” It is clear that the
visual analysis for the rail project must include studies not only of impacts
on views from the state highway, but important scenic vistas and viewplanes
identified in the Coastal View Study, and important public views to the
shoreline (under Chapter 205A criteria).
Which Lots or Parcels of the Transit Corridor are Within the SMA?
From our review of the Draft EIS, it appears that the transit corridor has 4 or
5 alignments which are partially or fully within the SMA, including the Aloha
Stadium area, Pearl Harbor, Keehi Lagoon, and the Waipahu/Waiau areas.
Unless the scenic resources and fully disclosed and impacts are fully analyzed,
the EIS is not in compliance with the provisions of Chapter 25, ROH, and
Chapter 205A, HRS. Certainly, no SMA Major Permit application should be
processed until the EIS has been completed.
What About the “Alternatives” Analysis for the Visual Study?
Another requirement of the EIS process is to fully explore and analyze possible
alternatives, and we do not believe this has been done. For example,
would a different alignment have less detrimental effect on the environment, on
views and scenic resources? Is a different configuration less likely to
intrude on scenic viewplanes? We know that the American Institute of
Architects (“AIA”) has expressed major concerns about the effect of the
elevated rail system on our scenic views. This simply has not been
Should the “Accepting Authority” for the Rail Project EIS be Mayor
We are also concerned about the entire process itself, because the “Accepting
Authority” for the EIS, in other words, the government entity that says the EIS
is adequate or not, is the same entity that is proposing the project. The
Guidebook for the State Environmental Review Process, produced by the OEQC,
states that a Final EIS must be accepted by a government entity before a
project can proceed. The accepting authority for state agency actions is
the Governor. For county actions, the respective county Mayor or
designated department director must accept the EIS. We believe this law
should be changed, because there is room for abuse. Do you think the
Mayor or the DPP Director will reject the rail project EIS or say it is
deficient, even if it is?
Can We Afford Another EIS Fiasco Like the Superferry?
Well, we have already experienced a fiasco with the EIS for the Superferry.
The State government tried to push it through but the courts said “No.”
We were not necessarily opposed to the Superferry, but we are happy
that the courts ruled to uphold the environmental assessment process.
Will the courts need to decide the fate of the rail project EIS as well?
We know that there are people watching the process closely. Section
205A-33, Injunctions, states, “Any person or agency violating any provision of
this chapter may be enjoined by the circuit court of the state by mandatory or
restraining order necessary or proper to effectuate the purposes of this
chapter in a suit brought by the authority or lead agency.”
We are tired of court cases just as many of you are. However, if the laws
are not followed, sometimes that is the only course of action. A very
important part of the EIS process is to identify measures to minimize adverse
effects of a project, and alternatives to the action and their environmental
effects. A thorough visual study of scenic resources must be included in
the Draft and Final EIS. Such a study will make it clear whether other
alignments should be considered. Once the rail is built, it will have
lasting and irreversible effects on the beauty of our island. It is
therefore crucial to identify the alignments or areas which will have the least
impact on our scenic viewplanes and other resources. This is what is
referred to in Chapter 343 as an “irrevocable commitment to loss or destruction
of any natural resource.” In order to conserve and protect the quality of
our environment, the government must follow the environmental disclosure laws
to avoid building structures which degrade it.