A standing room only crowd packed a courthouse inside the Prince Kuhio Federal Building Tuesday as U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima heard oral arguments in a lawsuit filed by opponents of the city's $5.3 billion rail project.
Tashima was brought in from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the case, after federal judges in Honolulu raised concerns about the proximity of the elevated train to the federal courthouse.
Tashima began the hearing by quickly ruling against a plaintiff's motion that sought to identify anti-rail candidate Ben Cayetano as the top vote getter in the Aug. 11 primary election for Honolulu mayor.
"Who wins the election is not going to be determined in court," said Tashima.
During the proceedings, each side had a half-hour to present their arguments, as well as fifteen minutes for rebuttal.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Cayetano, Cliff Slater of HonoluluTraffic.com, former U.S. District Judge Walter Heen, University of Hawaii law professor Randall Roth and state Sen. Sam Slom.
The plaintiffs allege the city violated the National Environmental Policy Act by not properly studying alternatives to rail. They also claim an archeological inventory survey must be done along the entire 20-mile route, not in four separate phases.
Matthew Adams, who argued the case on behalf of the plaintiffs, said the city's 2006 Alternative Analysis did not properly scrutinize viable options that could accomplish many of the same goals as an elevated train. He said under NEPA, the proper venue for the vetting of alternatives is the project's environmental impact statement.
"They eliminated all of the alternatives before they did the EIS, and they said none of them would meet the purpose and need of the project," Adams told reporters after the hearing. "That is something you do in the EIS process, that's not something you do beforehand so you have a pre-determined outcome."
However, the city claims alternatives to rail are mentioned throughout the EIS, in addition to the project's voluminous administrative record.