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Investigators demand meeting minutes of Honolulu rail board

HONOLULU — Federal investigators are demanding the minutes from closed-door meetings of the board overseeing a 20-mile rail line under construction on Oahu.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office last week filed its third subpoena for documents from the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.

The latest subpoena demands unredacted meeting minutes from the board’s executive sessions between January 2011 and December 2018.

The project has suffered cost overruns and been the subject of a state audit. The subpoenas are the first time federal prosecutors have gotten involved.

Authority CEO Andrew Robbins says his office has been granted an extension to submit the documents past the March 21 deadline set by the investigators.

Damien Kim, the board’s chairman, said the agency will do its best to comply with the subpoena, noting it has concerns about attorney-client privilege. The agency expects to finish the roughly $9.2 billion rail project in late 2025.

The Hawaii State Auditor requested the executive session minutes last year, but the rail authority refused to provide them.

Robbins told reporters at a news conference Monday that he’s received no indication from the Federal Transit Administration that the subpoenas or the investigation would jeopardize the project’s federal funding.

Federal prosecutors filed two other subpoenas this month, the rail agency has said. The first sought tens of thousands of documents relating to the initial stages of the rail line.

Then last week, Robbins disclosed that U.S. attorneys filed a second subpoena demanding information about the landowners and tenants relocated from the path of the rail line, including 18 files that were part of an internal review revealing excessive payments to those moved.

Asked whether the subpoenas are eroding public confidence that the project is being managed properly, Kim said, “I’m sure it doesn’t help.”

Mayor Kirk Caldwell told reporters, “I don’t look at this as good news . but I also see it as a welcome thing in terms of doing whatever investigations need to be done, put everything out there to assure the public that the project is being managed well — and if it isn’t, to have the corrections made that need to be made so that it continues forward.”

A report by the Hawaii State Auditor released last month said officials prematurely awarded contracts for the rail line a decade ago to minimize public criticism and show the project was moving along. But auditors found this practice dramatically swelled costs as plans changed.

The rail line was estimated to cost $5.1 billion in 2012, but the forecast ballooned to $9.2 billion six years later. The rail line is due to connect Honolulu’s western suburbs to the airport, downtown and the Ala Moana Center, Oahu’s biggest mall. Supporters hope it will prevent chronically bad traffic to downtown from getting worse as the population in West Oahu continues to grow.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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