Hazardous bird waste, nests lining Honolulu’s multibillion-dollar rail line

Always Investigating

The waste problem on Honolulu’s rail project isn’t just about overspending caught in recent audits. It turns out there’s a whole other kind of costly waste that’s become a danger along the line. HART says so much bird excrement has piled up it’s a potential health hazard, and it’s going to cost taxpayers to deal with it.

As the rail line has gone up over the years, the birds moved in, and the inner cavities along miles of guideway now host so many winged residents and nests that a recent HART safety hazard analysis found such a “dense accumulation of guano (a word for bird or bat excrement) that it is exposing workers to a potential health hazard.” (Click here to see a PDF link of the full HART report and photos)

“Even to the point of containing and making sure that our workers are safe and there’s sanitary conditions on the rail, we can’t even manage that?” said Heidi Tsuneyoshi, a Honolulu City Councilmember who closely watches rail spending and management issues.

Bird and rodent control was known to be an issue eight years ago before the guideway and stations went up, but nothing was done about it.

HART told Always Investigating in a statement: “No budget was earlier set aside to address anticipated bird and rodent problems.”

“We’ve had since 2011 to figure out a plan to contain the situation, and to see that it’s gotten to this point without appropriate action is very concerning,” Tsuneyoshi said. “Operation and maintenance for this whole project is such a controversial issue that if we can’t even maintain to this level at this point in time, then what do we have to look forward to?”

HART’s construction team is submitting an item for board approval this week to take nearly $1.4 million in westside and unallocated contingency money to start dealing with the bird nests and waste. The money would cover what they call a vector control system. Most of the funds would focus on the guideway and stations from Kapolei to the stadium, some on the newer airport section, and some set aside for the city center.

“It’s not even so much the cost of it,” Tsuneyoshi said, “it’s the fact of poor planning, and if we cannot even plan to control guano then we have really serious issues with this project.”

Many other topics involving bigger dollar-figures are on Thursday’s agenda, namely a revised financial plan that shows the effect of federal demands:

* how tens of millions in city subsidy for construction has to be spent much sooner;

* that the feds are not expected to pony up more grant money until at least 2020;

* and how more than $100 million in additional borrowing cycles are going to have to take place for cash flow.

The plan does say interest costs should go down some when counted through the year 2032. (Click here to see the updated financial plan.)

“FTA accounted for the delayed federal grant money by increasing the amounts that they will provide after the first release in 2020,” HART told KHON2 in a statement. “The debt service proceeds increased to use more TECP (a shorter term financing option with lower rates) to manage the cash needed but the bottom line is that the financing charges decrease to offset the increase in debt service. Cash ending balance increased from $60 million to $109 million.”

Also Thursday, the board will consider adding back more than 6 million dollars for a makai entrance for the Waipahu “Pouhala” station, an area previously scaled down for value engineering.

“Community and elected officials pushed for its inclusion,” HART told KHON2 in a statement. “From a transportation perspective, HART agrees that it enhances pedestrian access to the station.” (Click here to see the Pouhala station submittal.)

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