By Ferd Lewis
July 10, 2020
The new New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District, a project that was pledged to be delivered on time and on budget, will likely be none of those things after a key bill was pronounced dead in the Legislature Thursday due to a “monumental error” in language.
With the session due to adjourn today, unless Gov. David Ige calls a special session to deal with the problem — which lawmakers say is unlikely — Senate Bill 2940 will have to wait until next year to be rewritten and passed. The Governor’s Office was not immediately able to say if he would consider a special session.
“It was a collective fumble on the 1-yard line,” said State Sen. Glenn Wakai (D, Pearl Harbor-Kalihi).
The delay torpedoes a planned September 2023 opening for the University of Hawaii football team and will hike costs on a project for which the state a year ago had appropriated $350 million for its share of the public-private partnership.
The state may also have to come up with additional health and safety funds to keep the rusting 45-year-old facility operable for a longer period and could face a retreat by some of the prospective developers from which the project was to select priority-listed respondents to issue requests for proposals later this month.
The senate bill was designed to address changes in authority for the project. Originally the Hawaii Community Development Authority was tasked with oversight. But it was later determined that the Aloha Stadium Authority should have jurisdiction over the 98-acre project in Halawa and SB 2940 was created to make that change.
That bill called for the state to award up to 99-year leases for portions of the property to the eventual winning bidder in the state’s biggest public-private partnership.
But in redrafting and reviewing the bill by the Department of Accounting and General Services, a section would have changed the term of HCDA leases on other properties on Oahu from 65 years to a maximum of 99 years as well, lawmakers said.
In a letter to key legislators Wednesday after the error had been confirmed, State Comptroller Curt Otaguro wrote, “It was never our intent to affect HCDA’s authority. We are trying to create legislation that is consistent for the Stadium development district and the 98 acres designated under this development.”
Otaguro added, “I apologize for this monumental error and for the confusion and inconvenience caused to the Senate membership at this late stage. This error was under the unique and unexpected challenges to our bill review and drafting caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the effect on this legislative session, even as we were attempting to ensure we were as thorough as possible, and in no means was it inserted because of other hidden agendas or outside influences.”
Sen. Kai Kahele (D, Hilo) declined to accept the bill as written, legislators said. Kahele declined immediate comment.
Wakai said some legislators pledged that the bill would be repaired in the 2021 session and that no 99-year leases would be issued in the interim, “but Kai didn’t feel that he could sign off on the bill as it stood.”
With the session due to adjourn today, lawmakers said they ran out of time.
Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (D, Mililani Mauka-Waipio Acres), who sponsored the original bill, said, “I think it is unfortunate because, beside the project being good for Hawaii, we needed the project for our economy with tourism being down. We’ve got to get projects like this up and running. Now that it is delayed it is only going to cost more.”
Wakai said, “Scott Chan (Aloha Stadium manager) has the burden of trying to figure out how he is going to keep the stadium standing for another year. It is so frustrating.”
Wakai said, “I’ve been saying that this wouldn’t be rail 2.0, that it would be on budget and on time. And, now, it is going to be delayed and over budget.”
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