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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hearings need strict environmental focus

The public hearings planned on the environmental impact of Honolulu's planned mass-transit system could be a productive way to make sure the city is poised to do all it can to mitigate these effects on O'ahu.

Or they could turn into a big distraction that wastes a lot of time and accomplishes little.

The mission of the Lingle administration, soon to begin reviewing the city's final environmental impact statement on the 20-mile fixed-rail project, ought to be identifying solutions to the inevitable challenges of such a major undertaking.

They should apply a laser focus on the concerns raised in the draft EIS, such as the treatment of Hawaiian burials encountered along the route, noise containment, visual blight and the relocation of businesses and other community facilities and the financial and social upheaval that can cause for residents. Some of the proposals for managing the repercussions of rail are contained in the document that's downloadable by clicking the "Draft EIS" tab at http://honolulutransit.org. But other ideas should be solicited.

The governor has opted for a detailed review, one likely to be conducted by her Office of Environmental Quality Control. It's a legal but unusual step at this point in the environmental review, given that there already have been many hearings on the project and Lingle's own department heads already have reviewed the EIS. OEQC has the power to conduct such hearings but it's rarely invoked the public outcry over pesticide contamination of milk and water 20 years ago was one of the last times.

The rail project rises to the level of importance that bolsters the case for public hearings. But the aim should be the gathering of information that can move this project toward completion in the most environmentally responsible way not a stalling tactic to derail the project.

While there's sure to be testimony from rail opponents questioning the need for the project and the technology being used that's happened throughout this politically charged process those issues have been settled. Revisiting them won't do anything but needlessly delay this well-planned, much-needed public works project.

The city has a chance to start work on the project at an opportune moment, from the standpoint of both low construction costs and a dire need for economic stimulus. That should be the state's interests as well, and that's what should be pursued.