From Anchors Away To Anchors Aweigh! (PROBABLY)

After three months of protests, court cases and legal intervention by the Legislature

Wednesday - December 05, 2007
By Alice Keesing
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John Garibaldi wants to be a uniter like his Italian namesake
John Garibaldi wants to be a uniter like his Italian namesake

In the days leading up to the Superferry’s big launch - the one that went so fantastically awry in August - company president John Garibaldi sat in the vessel’s premier lounge and laughed lightly about his connection with another Garibaldi - General Giuseppe Garibaldi, the man who united Italy back in the 1800s.

A couple hundred years later, and John Garibaldi (who says he could be a descendant of the general, although he hasn’t done the research) had made it his mission to unite the islands of Hawaii. His secret weapon was a 350-foot catamaran that promised to open new doors for vacationers and businesses alike. The hype was huge. The Superferry had jumped all the hurdles that were thrown at it, including repeated calls for a study into its impact on the environment. The minutes were clicking down expectantly on the company’s website. The islands were about to be united ...

And then the Hawaii Supreme Court fired its broadside, and people on surfboards stopped the football-field-sized boat from entering Kauai’s Nawiliwili Harbor. In the ensuing weeks, lawyers, politicians, academics, a variety of columnists in this publication and people standing in the supermarket checkout line joined the debate. Why was the Superferry being asked to do things that other vessels weren’t? Was enough being done to protect the whales and the islands’ unique environments?

The Superferry enters Honolulu Harbor
The Superferry enters Honolulu Harbor

Was big business trampling over the community? Was the boat - and its passengers - welcome on the Neighbor Islands? Who screwed up?

Hawaii has rarely seen the islands so divided since before the days of Kamehameha the Great.

Three months later, Garibaldi is hoping for smoother waters as the Alakai gets ready to sail into Maui again - on Thursday. But while lawmakers may have cleared the way for the Superferry to operate legally, the whiplash events of the last three months show that nothing is certain.

Protests are expected at Kahului Harbor on Thursday, and an organized protest is planned for Saturday. Opponents on Maui are considering more legal action. And anger is still simmering on Kauai, where the company has yet to reschedule its service.

Garibaldi admits that the furor “has not been a pretty thing” for the company financially, yet he remains undaunted in his vision for the inter-island ferry service.

“I don’t buy the line that we’ve divided the state,” he says.

“It’s created a dialog among the islands about what we should be,” he adds. “In fact, I think time will tell that we’ve created a greater unified state.”

But even after all the talk of the last months, common ground still seems a long way off between the Superferry and those who oppose it.

Amidst all the controversy, Garibaldi often returns to the opinion polls, including one by MidWeek’s sister publication, the Star-Bulletin, that show the majority of people support the ferry service.

The snack bar serves a variety of foods and beverages
The snack bar serves a variety of foods and beverages

Yet opponents on Maui and Kauai say they are not a minority bunch of crazy environ-mentalists.

“I’ve never seen Kauai people so together on one issue,” says longtime Kauai resident and astronomy educator Rozlyn Reiner. “Some people don’t want the Superferry at all; others realize it’s going to happen but think it should be regulated, and they don’t like the way it’s been shoved down our throats. It’s got to take the environment into account. Kauai has such horrendous problems with infrastructure and traffic, and we really can’t take any more cars on our roads.”

One of the lingering questions people ask is why the environmental concerns weren’t taken care of years ago when the Superferry was in the planning stages; why it had to turn into an either/or decision between business and the environment.

Superferry execs reply that the company had the best environmental policies of any maritime operator, even before the recent dust-up.

“Even though (a review) wasn’t required, we did a lot of environmental work and set forth a lot of environmental protocols to provide for that,” Garibaldi says.

And if an environmental review had been required in


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