There’s Ferry Blame All Around

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - September 12, 2007

The cloud of emotion is beginning to dissipate which has surrounded the Hawaii Superferry issue for the past couple of weeks. It is time for the process to take the stage and garner the attention it so richly deserves.

The Hawaii State Supreme Court is the entity most deserving the lion’s share of the consternation and/or praise for why we are where we are. It is apparent to all concerned that the court’s directive created, in essence, a new law. There is no precedent in the construction or improvement of state harbor facilities that an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has been required.

Yes, it is true that county councils on Maui and Kauai had passed resolutions requesting an environmental review. But a resolution is an “expression of desire” rather than a directive. Any legislative body has the right to pass a resolution and any administration has the right to accept or reject a resolution. The Lingle administration had clearly followed the letter of the law and found support in the precedent in issuing exemptions to the Hawaii Superferry. The state has engaged in numerous construction and improvement projects for airports and harbors and had never been required to conduct an EA or EIS.

Despite legal challenges from opposing groups, the lower court found in favor of the state and the ferry. It was only on appeal the Hawaii State Supreme Court reasoned that secondary environmental affects were relevant and demanded an EA for Kahului Harbor on Maui. If not for the over reaching decision by the HSSC, the ferry would be sailing today.

On a side note, I have heard comments both in praise of and critical of the Coast Guard. The image of surfers and kayakers bobbing in Nawiliwili Harbor forcing the Superferry from Kauai shores was dramatic. I have spoken with Gov. Linda Lingle and she expresses great support for the restraint shown by the USCG in dealing with the water-borne protesters. The USCG reticence to intervene and clear the harbor has been praised by the governor. It was dark, there were large outboard motors and emotions on both sides. This was a recipe for disaster. The governor reminds us this was not a terrorist situation, but rather Hawaii citizens protesting a cause they believed in. Their safety was paramount.

I understand this sentiment. I understand it was a difficult decision. I also understand the image of protesters pulled out of the water at the risk of personal injury was the last thing the state and the USCG wanted broadcast to the world.

I asked the governor about the use of the Hawaii National Guard to secure the pier. She reminds us the state will respond to requests from county governments to lend National Guard assistance. There are about 120 officers serving on the Kauai Police force spread over three shifts. Clearly, the department was overwhelmed with the initial protests. Why didn’t Kauai Mayor Bryan Baptiste request assistance in securing the pier.

The decision of Second District Court Judge Joseph Cardoza is the next milestone in this saga.

We should know by the time you read this if the judge will allow the Superferry to operate while the state performs the Hawaii State Supreme Court mandate of an EA. I cannot fathom Judge Cardoza ruling against the state and the Superferry. If he does,

it will prove interesting to see the next move by ferry officials. If they decide they can no longer wait, I wouldn’t blame them if they moved the ferry to another destination.

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