UPDATED 4/14/11 3:17 p.m.

Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately referred to the Ansaldo Honolulu proposal as worth $1.2 billion. The contract would guarantee Ansaldo $1.1 billion.

Honolulu has quietly updated its public files on a controversial rail contract, providing more information on the winning bidder’s proposal.

The City Council last week questioned why the Carlisle administration would provide more information about the losing bidders for a $1.1 billion contract than about the firm it chose to do the work.

City officials and representatives of Ansaldo Honolulu defended the heavier redactions as normal.

But today the city’s public files contain less redacted versions of Ansaldo’s documents.

A staffer in the department acknowledged the pages were switched out “so people could know what the heck they were looking at.”

The issue of the redactions emerged during a six-hour Transportation Committee meeting about Honolulu’s rail project last week.

As Civil Beat reported, the records detailing operations and maintenance costs in a $1.1 billion proposal by Ansaldo was much more heavily redacted than the equivalent documents in proposals by two other companies, Sumitomo Corp. of America and Bombardier.

The redacted Ansaldo Honolulu documents were of particular interest because they offer crucial details about how much the city would pay the company to operate and maintain rail cars during an interim construction period, the first five years of rail operation and possibly — at the city’s discretion — another five years after that.

City Council members have criticized the administration for downplaying the operations and maintenance costs, a move that managing director Doug Chin defended as a way to avoid comparing “apples to oranges.”

When Civil Beat asked chief rail planner Toru Hamayasu about the redactions last week, he said he wasn’t aware of them.

“Well, sorry, but I haven’t seen the redacted versions,” Hamayasu said. “Two reasons for the redactions: One is what the attorneys (determine) to be considered whatever frustrates (the project). The other more clear one is to keep secret their confidential (proprietary) information. Whatever they ask to be kept confidential, we honor that.”

Staffers in the city’s Purchasing Division, where the records are kept, told Civil Beat that city lawyers instruct them what to redact. They said lawyers again review the redactions once they’re made, to be sure redactions are done properly. Corporation Counsel Carrie Okinaga, the city’s top lawyer, declined to comment or to put Civil Beat with a city lawyer who could.

In the marathon Transportation Committee meeting last week, City Council member Romy Cachola asked for an explanation of the differences in the redactions. He held up copies of the redacted documents, showing how differently they looked. Even headers that appear on the top of the forms and the word “confidential” were wiped from the documents.

“Who did the redacting?” Cachola asked.

A copy of Sumitomo’s proposed cost for the first five years of operations and maintenance of the Honolulu rail line, obtained from the city Purchasing Division on March 29, 2011.
Sumitomo_O&M

A copy of Bombardier’s proposed cost for the first five years of operations and maintenance of the Honolulu rail line, obtained from the city Purchasing Division on March 29, 2011.
040511_O&M_Redax 2_Bombardier

A copy of Ansaldo Honolulu’s proposed cost for the first five years of operations and maintenance of the Honolulu rail line, obtained from the city Purchasing Division on March 29, 2011.
040511_O&M_Redax 3_Ansaldo Orig

“I don’t know what document you’re talking about but I can explain to you the redacting process,” said the city’s purchasing administration, Wendy Imamura. “This was stated clearly to all offerers, to identify what portions of their proposals they feel are proprietary and confidential, and to clearly separate that and mark that as confidential, and that is immediately redacted for public review. Other information that we know by law should be redacted, such as social security numbers, we redact on our own.”

Cachola was not convinced.

“If that’s true, what you’re saying, how come the other two have this form compared to this one?” Cachola said, holding up the copies again.

“The offerers have the right to identify what they feel is proprietary information, specific to their operation,” Imamura reiterated. “They don’t want to share their secrets.”

A spokesman for Ansaldo Honolulu echoed the city’s explanation in an email response to Civil Beat’s inquiries Sunday.

“As we work through the process, the value of our products will become ever more apparent to the public,” wrote Enrico Fontana, general manager for Ansaldo Honolulu, in a statement provided by spokesman Jeff Coelho. “Most of the redacted information is confidential proprietary information and our request is compliant with the City’s rules of procurement.”

By Tuesday, Ansaldo’s documents on operations and maintenance had been replaced with less redacted versions. The binder in which they’re kept was also replaced.

A copy of Ansaldo Honolulu’s proposed cost for the first five years of operations and maintenance of the Honolulu rail line, obtained from the city Purchasing Division on April 5, 2011.
040511_O&M_Redax 4_Ansaldo2

Ansaldo officials did not return requests for comment on the change Tuesday, so it’s not clear whether the changes were ordered by the company or by someone at the city. Officials in the Purchasing Department did not return requests for explanation about the new documents.

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