Aloha For All, Except Superferry

Larry Price
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Wednesday - March 25, 2009
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The state of Hawaii has a long history of looking aggressively for ways to create new business opportunities on our shores.

Whether it be military housing projects, resort development, alternate energy systems, festivals, sporting events or concerts, our leaders, both private and public, Democrats and Republicans, military and civilians, have been sending out a steady stream of signals worldwide that Hawaii wants everyone to feel welcome here. It’s safe to say that they all have bent over backwards to extend Hawaii’s Aloha Spirit to the world - except the Hawaii Superferry.

The question on everyone’s mind is, how come? What did they do wrong? Why now, when the state is in such a crippled financial situation?

Obviously, it’s a short question with a long, complex answer, if there is one. The bottom line is, after a year of “hoop jumping,” the Hawaii Superferry laid off more than 200 employees and shut down its operation. Superferry officials say it was “ceasing operations because the state Supreme Court had rejected a state law allowing the company to operate while an environmental study was being conducted.”


 

In fact, the Supreme Court did more than reject a state law allowing the company to operate, it rejected the entire law, not just the part about the environmental study. The law, known as Act 2, is 38 pages of carefully written political document that would baffle most of the Superferry’s environmental foes, but it did the opposite, it aroused their competitive spirit. To add insult to the ruling, they said Act 2 was unconstitutional.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court rejected the entire legislative effort. This after the governor had called a special session of the Hawaii state Legislature. With much fanfare, the special session convened Nov. 2, 2007, to put together what they supposed was a new lease on life for the Superferry: additional time to complete the vaunted Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

The Hawaii Superferry got a breath of life and carefully took happy passengers and vendors to and from Maui. There were a few bumps in the beginning, but generally speaking they were accomplishing their mission with a smile on their faces.

The fallout from the Supreme Court has settled over the business community like a blanket of invisible gases, numbing everyone’s understanding of what the court’s ruling means in the long run.

Many people may think the ruling was aimed at the governor, but it was not. It was aimed right at the heart and soul of our legislative leaders in the Senate, who crafted the bill. Not only did the Supreme Court reject the bill, it intercepted it before it could get to a lower court.


Of course, environmental groups on Maui and Kauai are ecstatic about their great victory, but maybe they should hold off on the celebration for a couple of months. Ironically, they may have committed the same mistake as the early supporters of the Superferry by not honoring the affected powers that be on each island.

In Hawaii, it’s the legislative branch that calls the shots, and challenging the legislative branch can be hazardous to your enterprise and dreams. In the political arena, delay is the most permanent form of denial, and no one should question the Legislature’s ability to pump out specific bills to meet their desires.

In local politics, there are a lot of ways to say no to the public’s demands. This was not one of the Supreme Court’s best moves, simply because its ruling raises more questions than it answers.

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