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Court Decision Halts Local Funding Efforts For Ala Wai Project

Catherine Cruz

First Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Crabtree on Tuesday stopped funding efforts for the Ala Wai flood management project until an environmental review is fully completed.

Crabtree ruled in favor of a community group suing the state and City and County of Honolulu over the project that aims to protect communities in the Ala Wai watershed from severe flooding.

The project calls for walls and berms along the Ala Wai Canal and flood control structures in neighborhoods from Manoa to Waikiki. The federal government is putting up about $220 million for the project; local government must come up with $120 million as its share of the funding. The city expected the state to sell bonds to cover the local share.

The group Protect Our Ala Wai Watersheds filed suit, arguing the city and state rushed the environmental impact statement (EIS) process and that residents did not have the opportunity to fully comment on it.

Judge Crabtree's decision prevents the state from committing funds to the project before an EIS has been accepted. It also prohibits bond funds from being placed in an escrow account.

“The envisioned 100-year flood could be devastating. On the other hand, the impact on our streams, on irreplaceable historical features and on traditional cultural practices could also be devastating if the project is implemented in violation of the law," Crabtree wrote in his ruling. 

In a written statement, city Acting Corporation Counsel Paul Aoki said the city accepts and respects the court's decision, and it was the city's intention to review the proposed final environmental impact statement. But there are concerns the state and city will lose the federal funding and a valuable opportunity because of the decision.

Aoki also said the city will work with the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine the appropriate next steps.

In wake of the court ruling, state officials say they are focusing on completing the environmental review process and expediting the final acceptance of the EIS.

The Army Corps of Engineers stated it wasn't commenting on the decision because the agency wasn't named in the litigation. But officials say they will continue to work with the city and state on the project.

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