It’s a new year, and Honolulu Hale is welcoming five new City Council members. The city’s new mayor has eight weeks to go before he has to present his first budget, and a new round of rail hearings start this week. Civil Beat is reporting from the inside.

City Council Vice Chair to Host Hearing on IMG Report

12:23 p.m.
The new chairman of the City Council’s Transportation & Transit Planning Committee, Breene Harimoto, is dedicating his first committee meeting next week to the controversial outside rail review that former Gov. Linda Lingle released as one of her final acts in office.

“The council needs to be objective and up-and-up about this,” Harimoto told Civil Beat. “I don’t want to be perceived as ramrodding this through. A little slow-down now, so we can assure the public that we are giving this consideration, is worth a couple weeks.”

Harimoto said the city’s rail planners will be given the opportunity to testify in response to the IMG report, which called into question Honolulu’s financial plan for rail. He said he also invited the State Department of Transportation and Maryland-based Infrastructure Management Group, which authored the report.

A spokesman in the state Department of Transportation told Civil Beat the department’s acting director is aware of the committee meeting, but does not plan to attend. IMG Chairman Steve Steckler told Civil Beat his company has not been contacted by the city or the state about the hearing.

Harimoto said the city’s rail division asked him to add discussion of the Special Management Area permitting process, which helps clear the way toward construction, to next week’s meeting agenda.

“The city is trying to get (those permits) to the City Council ASAP,” Harimoto said. “I told them I wanted to focus only on IMG. There’s an urgency to getting the rail going, but I think we owe the public to really focus on the IMG report, and then decide what to do next.”

Harimoto calls himself a “rail supporter,” but says he feels an obligation to vet the IMG report.

Read Civil Beat’s analysis of the IMG and city financial reports.

Rail Division Moving Through Permitting Check List

11:30 a.m.
Honolulu’s Rail Transit project took another step today.

Testimony was heard at the first of two application briefings for a Special Management Area Use permit for the $5.5 billion project. About 1.6 miles of rail line is expected to encroach on coastal areas, requiring the permit to build on the land. The meeting was held at the Aloha Stadium Conference Room.

“The City Department of Transportation Services and their planning consultants have already concluded that there are no impacts to natural resources or the shoreline, or coastline recreational areas,” said Maurice Morita, director of the Hawaii-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust and the only person to testify at the meeting. “Rail is important, not only to our members in the Hawaii Laborers Union and our signatory contractors, but for all of Oahu.”

Whenever a project goes into special management areas, state law requires a special management area permit. Rail will touch five such areas: 0.6 miles of guideway from Pupupuhi St. to Waipahu Depot St. in Waipahu; 280 feet of stormwater outfall and 80 feet of sewer connections near Leeward Community College; 0.2 miles of guideway near Moanalua Freeway and the Pearlridge Station’s makai entrance; 0.4 miles of road improvements and approximately three columns in a right-of-way along the makai side of Kamehameha Highway; and 0.4 miles of guideway, a Traction Power Substation, a right-of-way acquisition and lighting for four makai tennis courts in the Keehi Lagoon Park.

Wayne Yoshioka, director of the Department of Transportation Service, said the briefing was routine.

“It’s a required thing, it’s a check-off,” he told Civil Beat.

A second meeting for testimony on the permit will be held Thursday at Keehi Lagoon Hall at 10 a.m. Yoshioka says there is a chance the Honolulu City Council may be able to consider the permit Jan. 26, and approve it that day.

City Rolls Out New Website Design

10:57 a.m.
After a couple of bumps along the way, the City and County of Honolulu has gone live with a new website. The design is cleaner, and features a giant city seal on top of a dreamy beach landscape. Also prominently displayed are links to information about the city’s rail project, a furlough calendar, city and county job opportunities and APEC, the global conference to be held in Honolulu in November.

City Holds SMA Permit Hearings

Now that Gov. Neil Abercrombie has accepted the city’s Final Environmental Impact Statement, rail transit planners are moving toward the acquisition of necessary permits to start construction on the multibillion dollar project.

The City and County of Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting is hosting hearings today and tomorrow about Special Management Area Use permits. The permits are required for coastal development.

The first of two hearings is scheduled for this morning at the Aloha Stadium Conference Room, at 10 a.m. Another hearing is set for tomorrow at the Keehi Lagoon Hall, also at 10 a.m.

Read Previous Editions of Inside Honolulu

Jan. 4, 2011: Carlisle’s drinking buddies may be lonely this month; Honolulu’s first mayor inaugurated 102 years ago today; Tom Berg isn’t happy with his Council committee assignments.

Jan. 3, 2011: City Council to explore user fees as revenue generator; Nestor Garcia talks rail, APEC, city values in celebratory inaugural address.

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