Selling Out For The Superferry

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - November 07, 2007

In the aftermath of the decisions of the Hawaii Supreme Court and Maui Judge Cardoza that the Hawaii Superferry could not sail without an environmental review, conservative politicians and state business interests loudly deplored the message those decisions sent to companies interested in doing business in Hawaii.

“Who’s gonna wanna do business in a state where, after investing beaucoup bucks, a small group of tree-huggers can close you down in the courts?”

It’s a legitimate rhetorical question.

One answer can be found, however, in the construction cranes, three profitless airlines, low unemployment rate, crowded roadways and endless housing developments that spread across the Islands - a lot of companies are willing to do business in a beautiful place with tough environmental laws.

But OK. Sending out messages that Hawaii’s tough on business isn’t necessarily helpful. How about this message instead, apparently the one the Lingle administration sent to the Superferry folks?

“Sure, we’ve got stiff environmental laws on the books, and every campaign season repeat the mantra of preserving the beauty of this special place (soft Hawaiian music playing in the background), our Hawaii,” the message goes. “But not to worry. In your case, they don’t apply.”

Good idea?

As I wrote here a couple of weeks ago, I don’t think so. The result of such a message, whether you approve or disapprove of the ferry, is our present situation: the supermess.

The Superferry looks bad.

The governor looks bad.

And some whale-huggers are throwing themselves in the boat’s path.

Or how about this bulletin from the state Legislature, the one that went out with the special session’s passage of the Superferry relief bill?

It goes something like this: “Yes, this estimable body of ours passed stiff environmental legislation 30 years ago - and yes, we all run repeating the mantra of protecting the aina, the oceans and all the fishes in the sea (soft Hawaiian music playing in the background, but not as mellifluously as Lenny Klompus can play it). But when a business spends $175,000 lobbying us, and our e-mails and polls say ‘environmental laws be damned, we want the Superduperferry,’ we’ll bail out both governor and ferry driver in six days quick.”

All while clucking about the mistakes of the administration while committing one of their own.

No, I suppose there was little else the Legislature could do.

Jobs were being lost.

Potential suits needed to be avoided.

Campaign war chests begged to be filled.

But the clearest message I heard last week came from Kauai state Rep. Mina Morita during debate on the Senate bill that would allow the Superferry to operate while the environmental assessment was being done.

Said Morita: “We generally make laws to protect the health, safety and welfare of Hawaii’s people and its environment. We should not be making laws to correct political fixes gone bad, which is what Senate Bill 1, Senate Draft 1 attempts to do. I want to emphasize, in this bill this body is not making a new policy or protecting the public interest. Rather, Senate Bill 1, Senate Draft 1 establishes a process to circumvent existing laws to facilitate a permitting process.”

Morita went on: “There is no effort in this measure to ‘strike a balance between the issues of public interest and concerns of the environment’ by allowing the Hawaii Superferry to operate. The public interest is served only when the rule of law is followed, not by changing the law to serve the interests of one company, especially after a judicial ruling and injunction against said company.”

Then the good state representative finished: “Finally, I think it is really appropriate that we are voting on this measure on Halloween. Senate Bill 1, Senate Draft 1 dressed in the facade of toothless conditions is still one ugly bill that reeks the horrors of political favors gone awry, and should be haunting this Legislature on how cheap we sold the credibility and respectability of this institution and our moral compass.”

In all of this, from first to last, there are enough mixed messages to sink ... well, apparently not a Superferry.

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