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Outdoor Circle opposes transit blight


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POSTED: Sunday, April 19, 2009

From the day the city announced its plan for an above ground fixed guideway transit system, The Outdoor Circle (TOC) has been pressured by all sides to take a position. But our board of directors insisted that we participate in the process so that we could form an opinion based on facts and not just a knee-jerk reaction.

In the ensuing three-plus years we have participated in scoping efforts, public presentations, meetings with consultants, briefings from project opponents, membership on the Mayor's Transit Advisory Committee, and public hearings. We have studied the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and the exhaustive technical reports.

In the end we are left with the conclusion that in its nearly 100-year history, The Outdoor Circle knows of no other proposal that holds the potential to degrade the landscape of Oahu and change the character of our communities as greatly as the Honolulu transit project. We believe it will be the most visually disruptive project in the history of Hawaii. While its ability to ease traffic problems on Oahu is debatable, its negative impact on the visual environment is not even denied in the project's own environmental impact statement.

The document states that the project will become the dominant feature in the view planes of almost every community. It will intrude upon the undeveloped nature of open space, block views of parks and historic sites, disrupt the character of the pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods, intrude upon homes and offices and block protected mauka-makai views of the mountains; the ocean and Honolulu Harbor and Diamond Head, Punchbowl and Aliamanu craters.

Of equal concern is the fate of more than 800 street trees which are slated for removal and/or relocation. As a mitigation measure, the DEIS suggests that a contractor “;would”; prepare new planting plans and that additional trees “;could”; be planted. We believe the public needs an accurate accounting of what will happen to these trees.

Of great distress is the proposal to eliminate “;notable”; trees — 19 Kamani trees on Dillingham Boulevard and 23 monkeypod trees on Kapiolani Boulevard near University Avenue. And the DEIS says nothing about protecting trees adjacent to the construction to prevent damage to existing trees.

The DEIS does not explain how the city will mitigate the harsh presence of hundreds of support columns and more than two dozen transit stations. It also is silent regarding commercial signage in, around or on any part of the project — including all transit-oriented development. The DEIS should forbid any exterior commercial advertising on the train, transit stations or any portion of the transit infrastructure.

This project offers an opportunity to remove the overbearing presence of utility poles and lines. Relocating all utility lines along the transit route and placing them underground or beneath the fixed guideway will enhance the view planes and provide mitigation for the visual damage created by the project. None of this is mentioned in the DEIS.

In conclusion, the board of directors of The Outdoor Circle believes the city has substantially downplayed the visual impacts the project will have on our communities and on our quality of life. Nor does it offer acceptable mitigation throughout the DEIS for the harm this project will inflict.

We believe the final EIS must acknowledge the mountain of negative impacts that will be caused by the project and present effective mitigation plans. If this is not done, we believe the city should abandon the above-ground fixed guideway and replace it with an alternative system that will not be as destructive and divisive as the current proposal.

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Betsy Connors is president of the board of directors of The Outdoor Circle, which was established in 1912 to protect the scenic beauty of Hawaii.