Project leaders under fire as HECO raises critical concerns over rail

There are fresh concerns about the power-related costs for Honolulu’s rail project.

It’s an issue Always Investigating has been tracking for years.

A manager with Hawaiian Electric pointed out safety concerns about utility placement and undergrounding along the rail route.

Those concerns, coupled with the spiraling cost of the project, have prompted the head of the city council to call for the leader of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) to be replaced.

HECO’s manager called out HART for pushing ahead with design and building despite major unresolved issues about power and safety for its crews.

Now, Always Investigating has uncovered a new surprise for landowners along the route.

Back in 2014, we revealed that the cost and source of power was still up in the air, and that major issues about line relocations, or undergrounding, posed time and cost problems.

The project’s federal monitor continues to call power issues the “most significant risk to the project.” Among those issues, was there even enough power? Is HECO or HART paying for an added substation? What will line relocations cost?

We’ve heard very little from HART since more than a year ago, when Always Investigating asked CEO Dan Grabauskas: “How much of that infrastructure do you have to pay for?”

“That’s an excellent question and not yet answered,” he replied.

Since then, HART penciled in about $120 million, but a federal monitor says that’s not enough.

A power company official has now come forward to the rail authority, saying critical clearance issues are not being addressed in upcoming segments, warning that de-energizing of lines to be moved can take up to a year, and saying the already built parts of the track don’t give enough safe working space for power company personnel.

HECO released the following statement Friday: “We are confident that by working with HART, we can develop a plan that will address these issues.”

We dug even deeper and found another surprise, as more property is going to be affected by the power problems.

One-hundred-forty-six public parcels will be crossed over, and about 100 more privately owned parcels have to have easement purchases to make way for power line undergrounding.

“There is a whole new batch of folks who are going to get notice letters and HART is going to have to inspect their properties and see what they find underground,” said Mark Murakami, an attorney with Damon Key Leong Kupchak Hastert. “There could be iwi. There could be a host of issues they don’t have right now, because they’re not digging in those areas.”

Negotiating the sales and details on each of those parcels will take time, and at what cost?

The federal monitor and that HECO letter both urge holding off on more design and construction until all these power problems are resolved.

Meanwhile, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell says he’ll be meeting with Don Horner, chairman of the HART board, on Monday to address some of these concerns.

Both Horner and Grabauskas are targeted by Honolulu City Council chair Ernie Martin, who wants them to be replaced.

Martin made the request in a letter to Caldwell, citing the rising cost of the project and the budget shortfall, which he says could reach $800 million. He says HART isn’t doing a good job managing the budget.

KHON2 reached out to HART, and we were told Grabauskas did not want to comment.

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