Ferry Questions For Awana, Others

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - September 05, 2007

I am certain you are all familiar with the Hawaii Superferry saga. The recent ruling by the Second Circuit Court on Maui to not dissolve the Temporary Restraining Order grounding the ferry is the latest development in a painful exercise in doing business in Hawaii.

The Superferry project was initially met with virtual universal fanfare. Many believed it was long overdue. The benefits of inter-island ferries in San Francisco and Seattle are celebrated. The entrepreneurs who spearheaded the Superferry project believed a similar service would benefit our state, too. Armed with vision, business acumen and financing, this group set out to do something completely different for our state. This innovative, common-sense and outside the proverbial box thinking is the basis for the difficulties they are facing today.

Heaven forbid there should be any support for doing things differently in our community. How many times have we seen rampant opposition to ideas that conflict with our communal comfort zone. I hear the arguments from those who are now protesting the arrival of the Superferry. “We don’t want the traffic.” “Our island has too much development.” “We don’t want you people coming from Oahu to fill our beaches and take our waves.” “We have to protect the aina.” “You will bring criminals and drugs.”

The list of opposition goes on and on and on and on.

Ironically, the Superferry addressed these and other concerns during 22 public hearings across the state. Those who were dissatisfied filed lawsuits heard in federal court and state court. Despite rulings favoring the Superferry, the opposition appealed to the Hawaii State Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court, uncharacteristically, fast tracked this case from beginning to end. I have spoken with several lawyers in differing capacities and they are all amazed at the court’s behavior. Despite differing opinions on the court’s proactive stance requiring the performance of an Environmental Assessment (EA), their decision was released without a supporting opinion. This is a highly unusual occurrence. The speed from the time when this case was first heard to the time the decision was rendered was unusually fast. The timing of the calendar to coincide with the announced launch date of Superferry service seemed to be too coincidental. I am not leveling any specific allegations, but the scenario is curious and the Supremes would do well to explain their actions.

But the high court is not the only interesting player. The state Department of Transportation and former director Rod Haraga must explain how they could assure the Superferry that an Environmental Impact Statement would not be necessary, which seems to teeter on the brink of irresponsibility.

Regarding the DOT side of the story, there are two who could shed more light on this issue. One is Bob Awana. I recall that Awana was effectively making the decisions for the DOT during this period. The other is current DOT director Barry Fukunaga, who headed up the Harbors Division and reported to Awana. Gentlemen, any comments?

There is so much more to this story. The decision this week of Judge Joseph Cordoza will have a great influence on the future of the Hawaii Superferry. I am hopeful his decision will be to allow the Superferry to operate while submitting to an EA. If not, it will be very difficult for the Superferry to remain afloat.

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