Former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano says he plans to appeal a recent federal court ruling on Honolulu rail that will allow the $5.26 billion project to proceed.

Cayetano, who opposes rail, made the statement Wednesday during a speech at the Smart Business Hawaii 37th Annual Business and Investment Conference in the Ala Moana Hotel.

The news was greeted by hoots and hollers from a crowd dominated by Hawaii Republicans, including state Sen. Sam Slom, who emceed the event, and Reps. Cynthia Thielen and Gene Ward.

Cayetano didn’t provide many details about the appeal, only saying that it will go beyond the most recent ruling and encompass previous decisions made by Judge A. Wallace Tashima.

“It’s going to be hard sledding for us, I think,” Cayetano told the audience. “But for the city, the financial plan is a house of cards and I think at some point they’re either going to have to raise taxes or shorten the route or do something.”

Representatives of the city’s Department of Corporation Counsel and Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation said they were unaware of any appeals.

Cayetano’s rail announcement wasn’t the former governor’s only provocative statement of the afternoon. He also questioned the authenticity of a letter that the late U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye sent from his deathbed to Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

That letter asked Abercrombie to appoint U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa to Inouye’s senate seat. Abercrombie, of course, didn’t grant Inouye’s dying wish and installed Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz instead.

Cayetano said the language used in the letter — specifically the part in which Inouye wrote, “I hope you will grant me my last wish” — did not match the senator’s personality. Although the relationship between Cayetano and Inouye had chilled, the two had known each other for a long time.

“That was not the senator talking,” Cayetano said. “The senator was much more subtle than that. He might have said something like, ‘Please consider Colleen Hanabusa.’ But I don’t think he would ever say anything like that.”

A lot has been said about Inouye’s letter to Abercrombie and the circumstances surrounding it. Cayetano too said he found the timing of the letter’s release curious.

Cayetano, a longtime friend of the governor, said Inouye’s letter was hand-delivered to Abercrombie half an hour after the senator died on Dec. 17, and was described by the governor as personal correspondence. The senator’s staff released it to the public shortly thereafter, something Cayetano said he “can’t imagine” Inouye would allow.

“So the question is, who authorized the release of the letter to the public?” Cayetano said. “That left the governor, in my opinion, very little room to maneuver because now if he granted the senator’s wish it would look like he had been manipulated and that he was not his own person.”

Inouye’s staff has been mum about the circumstances surrounding the release of the letter, and has not returned Civil Beat’s calls on it.

Cayetano said Inouye’s death might now leave openings for the Republican party in Hawaii.

For instance, when Abercrombie was considering who to appoint to Inouye’s seat, Cayetano said the governor was concerned about the cost of a special election for Hanabusa’s seat should she have replaced the senator. But Cayetano said Abercrombie had also told him he was also worried about Republican Charles Djou running for Hanabusa’s seat and winning, something he had done in a previous special election.

“Who from the Democratic side can beat Charles Djou?” Cayetano asked. “Not Mufi Hannemann. They’re going to have to find someone. And if the governor’s seat is open, and if it’s Hanabusa or Abercrombie, would Linda Lingle think about running again?”

About the Author