Anthony Aalto easily passed his first hurdle to join the board of directors of the Honolulu Transit Authority on Tuesday after a committee of the Honolulu city council unanimously advanced his appointment.
If the entire city council approves it at a later meeting, Aalto, an investigative journalist, documentary maker and former president of the Oahu-based Sierra Club Oahu group will replace Joe Uno, a construction cost estimator who called at a break in railway construction at Middle Street. .
Uno’s mandate expired on June 30, but he had hoped that the Council would reappoint him.
During the Transport, Sustainability and Health Committee hearing on Tuesday, Aalto said that despite his lack of expertise in transport or construction, he would bring a much needed curiosity that has historically been lacking on the board of administration of HART.
As a filmmaker, he explored land use, housing, emergency preparedness, and other issues that challenged Hawaii, most notably rail.
âNeedless to say, I was horrified by the mismanagement and cost overruns,â Aalto told committee members, as well as Chairman Tommy Waters. Waters attended the meeting after previously asking Aalto if he would be willing to volunteer for the board.
Aalto said he could use his skills as an investigative journalist to be the “eyes and ears” of the rail city council, demanding answers and providing better oversight of the project, the costs of which have now exceeded. $ 12 billion.
âThe only qualification we missed is a curious mind,â he said. Aalto praised one of the non-voting board appointees, Natalie Iwasa, for her long-standing scrutiny of rail finances.
Critics of Aalto’s appointment, however, argue that Uno already offers these qualities.
Uno claims he is being replaced because he wants to stop at Middle Street given the latest rail budget hole, estimated at $ 3.6 billion. This position puts him at odds with most of his fellow board members and city leaders, who say the railroad has yet to pass that point.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Waters recited to Aalto some of the duties of the HART board. listed in the charter of the city of Honolulu, including the requirement for board members to seek funds to complete the system. “It’s not ‘can’, it’s’ must,” Waters said, before asking Aalto if he was comfortable taking the job.
Aalto said he was ready to accept responsibility.
During the hearing, he also said he preferred a âplan Bâ rail route through Middle Street that would run along King Street to the University of Hawaii Manoa instead of Ala Moana.
In fact, Aalto said, he urged former Honolulu mayor Kirk Caldwell so much to change his route that Caldwell eventually stopped talking to him and didn’t recognize him in a more recent joint meeting. with the current mayor, Rick Blangiardi.
Nonetheless, Aalto told Waters that he was prepared to fulfill the obligations listed in the charter.
There was no mention of Uno during this exchange, although Aalto later said he was surprised to see his nomination presented in the media as some kind of competition with Uno for the HART seat.
âI did not look for this job. I didn’t want to, âAalto told members of the Volunteer Post Board on Thursday. “But nevertheless, I believe I have an obligation to serve.”
“A cascade of small decisions”
Uno, meanwhile, was very critical the qualifications of his potential successor.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Ewa Beach town councilor Augie Tulba repeatedly expressed concern that Aalto’s background does not match the qualifications sought by Council and outlined in the report by Aalto. Aalto. appointment resolution.
Tulba, a local comedian and actor who joined the Council this year, added that “I am the last person who should be critical because I have been criticized during my campaign.” Nonetheless, Tulba said: “I am worried.”
Specifically, he highlighted the five years of senior management experience in transit, construction or a similar industry that are listed in the resolution. Tulba urged Aalto to say if he thought he qualified.
Aalto said it was up to the board to decide, but added that his experience with rail and public policy issues affecting Oahu over the past decade would be an important addition to the board.
The semi-autonomous body has experienced a high turnover since its formation in 2012 and none of its original 10 members remain. Many former and current board members do not have the qualifications outlined by Tulba.
Aalto argued that HART staff are making unnecessarily expensive construction choices without keeping Oahu taxpayers in mind.
He said it would be great for a city-commissioned forensic audit to reveal a main ‘scapegoat’ that has skyrocketed rail costs so dramatically. It is more likely, however, that the cause is a “cascade of small decisions” that have piled up due to HART incompetence, he said. He further reprimanded the former leaders of the board of directors.
In fact, Aalto said on Thursday that HART should never have been created and that the project would be in much better shape if it had been managed by the city’s transportation services department and under the direct supervision of the city council.
Aalto also said the city should never have accepted the $ 1.55 billion federal grant for railroad construction, as regulations accompanying those dollars forced HART to purchase essential parts at a higher cost. .
Specifically, he cited the necessary air conditioning systems along the route that could have been purchased cheaply without the federal requirements.
Additionally, as projected rail costs have surpassed $ 12 billion, federal funding has become a smaller share, but the city still has to scramble to comply with federal requirements. âIt eventually turned into the dog wagging tail,â Aalto said.
Despite all the problems, Aalto said he continues to support the rail on behalf of the residents of the Westside of Oahu.
These communities deserve the benefits of the public works project after having taken over the main landfills of the island, the H-Power the waste-to-energy facility, the Kahe power plant and other industrial sites, as well as long commutes, he said.
Several groups in the construction industry, including Pacific Resource Partnership and Hawaii Construction Alliance, were among those who testified in favor of Aalto’s appointment. Nonetheless, Aalto insisted that it was not “in the pocket” of the developers. He stressed that he advocated changing the route as evidence.