The agency in charge of the Honolulu rail project has filed a lawsuit to take property where the state’s non-profit blood bank manufactures, stores and distributes Hawaii’s blood supply.
The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s suit, filed Monday in Circuit Court, seeks to take a narrow strip of the Blood Bank of Hawaii’s parcel fronting Dillingham Boulevard through eminent domain to make way for the rail line.
The suit follows years of discussions between HART and the blood bank over the impact the rail project could have on the medical facility, which provides blood products to 18 civilian hospitals statewide.
A HART spokesman said the organization has been in negotiations with the blood bank since March 2014 and hopes talks will continue even as city attorneys proceed with a lawsuit using Honolulu’s eminent domain power to take the property.
“Authorization for eminent domain was granted by both the City Council and the HART Board in March 2016 and April 2016, respectively,” HART said in a statement. “We have continued negotiating since that time with the hopes of reaching a fair settlement.”
The blood bank expressed regret that HART had filed suit.
In a statement, the blood bank’s president and chief executive said blood bank and HART officials met last month to discuss current construction plans and timelines, as well as the impact to the blood bank’s operations and options for risk mitigation.
During the meeting, the blood bank agreed to grant HART limited access to meet the immediate rail project needs provided that the organization’s regulatory compliance and blood manufacturing and distribution would not be at risk, said Dr. Kim-Anh Nguyen, president and chief executive.
“We were disappointed that within several days of that meeting, we were notified that HART leadership voted to move forward with eminent domain proceedings against BBH,” Nguyen said.
The crux of the dispute turns on the impact that the rail project will have on the blood bank headquarters and lab building that would remain. State law and the U.S. Constitution allow the government to take land from private landowners for public purposes, but require that the government provide the landowner “just compensation” for the taking.
Eminent domain lawsuits often turn on what is “just compensation.”
Neither party responded to questions about the compensation discussed during negotiations. And the two sides disagreed about the impact rail would have on the blood bank’s operations and land value.
“It is significant to note that HART has limited its take to an approximately 11-ft wide strip of the parcel fronting Dillingham Boulevard, which consists of only landscaping (grass and shrubs),” HART said in a statement. “HART’s take is not expected to have any impact on Blood Bank’s operations.”
“We beg to differ,” said the blood bank’s attorney, Robert Thomas. “I think we’re going to have a fairly serious disagreement on that.”
Running an elevated train adjacent to the blood bank’s second-floor will affect its operations, he said, adding it’s not enough to compensate the blood bank simply for the property taken.
“The Constitution requires a whole heck of a lot more than that,” Thomas said. “You’ve got to be put back in the position you were in before the taking.”
HART’s complaint asks the court to determine the amount of compensation the blood bank should be entitled to.
HART is set to run out of money for the rail project this year after the Legislature concluded its 2017 session without reaching agreement on how to subsidize the project. The lack of consensus left the 20-mile-long rail line, which is way over budget and far behind schedule, with a shortfall of about $3 billion.
Construction of the rail line is now moving from less developed areas of West Oahu toward more urban areas on its way to its terminus at Ala Moana Center.
Nguyen said that the city’s suit places a burden on the blood bank.
“BBH is a non-profit entity and being forced to defend a lawsuit is a costly expense,” she said. “We believe eminent domain seizure is not in the best interest of the community and jeopardizes BBH’s ability to provide an uninterrupted, safe and reliable blood supply for Hawaii’s hospitals and patients.”
Although the Dillingham building is the blood bank’s headquarters, its donor center is on Young Street.
Read the lawsuit below: