The Supermess Didn’t Have To Be

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - October 17, 2007

What a mess. What a super-sized, Superferry mess - and we have our elected and appointed officials to thank for it.

Maui Circuit Court Judge Joseph Cardoza ruled last Tuesday that the Hawaii Superferry could not operate until an environmental assessment is completed. He sided with the Kahului Harbor Coalition, Maui Tomorrow and the Sierra Club, stating that “there is a real possibility of irreparable damage to the environment, to the way of life in this community” should the Superferry sail before the environmental study was completed.

The front page of the next day’s newspapers showed pictures of Judge Cardoza looking resolute, Superferry CEO John Garibaldi looking sad, and House Speaker Calvin Say, Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and Gov. Linda Lingle looking sad and - frankly - stupid.

Sad and stupid - which, by the way, they are not. But in this instance, Hawaii’s political establishment - the administration, the Legislature and the bureaucracy - erred. The law, said the judge, required an environmental assessment; but neither the many attorneys who work for the governor nor the many attorneys who serve in the Legislature nor the bureaucrats in the state transportation department seemed to have read the law.

Or maybe they did, but in the name of providing the folks with a “transportation option” or simply siding with business - as is government’s wont in the vast majority of instances - they assured the Superferry’s owners that all was well, not to worry, build da’ suckah’ and it will go.

But Judge Cardoza said, “No go.” He agreed that concerns about increased traffic, invasive species and collisions with humpback whales - and more - required the assessment before the Superferry could resume service to Maui.

Hawaii’s politicians, including Say, Hanabusa and Lingle, always talk green during their campaigns for public office. You know the litany. “Hawaii is a special place.” “We have to protect the aina.” And so on and so on and so on.

They’ll even write environmental legislation and print it in black and white in the Hawaii Revised Statutes, as in Section 5 of Chapter 343 that requires an EIS before the Superferry’s engines roar. But when someone comes along promising enough jobs - at whatever rate of pay - political Hawaii will twist itself into shapes that verge on the perverse to satisfy them, including ignoring the law.

As I write, the Superferry sits idle in Honolulu Harbor, more than two-thirds of its employees have been laid off, the governor is urging the Legislature back into session to pass a law to check the state judiciary and set the ferry free, and members of the state House and Senate look as if they’re ready to oblige her.

In the meantime, buoyed by Cardoza’s ruling, you can bet the bank that those who protested the Superferry’s first trip to Kauai will be waxing their surfboards the moment the governor signs a bill designed to circumvent the judge’s ruling.

Those folks mean business too, and they’ve read the law and insist that it not be ignored.

How did we come to this?

This gawdawful mess didn’t have to be. If the Superferry operators had been required to follow the law from the outset, i.e., do an environmental assessment, the situation would never have become so polarized and the first ferry would be plying Hawaii’s waters today. With some environmental prohibitions attached, no doubt, but in operation - providing that attractive transportation option of which the governor speaks.

By now the governor, the folks at DOT and the members of the Legislature should have learned something: Step back, let the EIS process proceed and - in due course - the Superferry will take its place in interisland travel.

If it doesn’t, if Superferry CEO Garibaldi packs up his boat and sails for calmer waters, well ... so be it.

Chalk it up to the wages of writing environmental law, then ignoring it.

That path only creates a mess - a Supermess.

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