Thursday, August 11, 2005

Federal lawsuit
postpones Superferry

Groups seeking an environmental
assessment hold up project financing

WAILUKU » Hawaii Superferry Chief Executive Officer John Garibaldi called a federal lawsuit filed against his venture "unfortunate," and said his company still plans to be in service in early 2007.

"What we're seeing is groups of special interest trying to impose special rules on the Hawaii Superferry," he said. "It's unfortunate for the people in Hawaii. ... We're still moving forward to get it resolved."

The lawsuit was filed last week in U.S. District Court on behalf of the Sierra Club, the Friends of Haleakala National Park, Maui Tomorrow Foundation Inc. and the Kahului Harbor Coalition.

Defendants include the Superferry, the federal Maritime Administration and its parent, the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Attorney Isaac Hall, who represents the Sierra Club and other groups, said they feel the Hawaii Superferry should be required to conduct an environmental assessment because of its potential impact on various islands.

The County Councils for the Big Island, Maui and Kauai have passed resolutions calling for environmental studies, said Hall, who also contends that the state has not adequately explained how it intends to protect the islands from the introduction of alien species.

Garibaldi said those filing the lawsuit were groups with special interests and that Maui Circuit Court Judge Joseph Cardoza ruled July 6 that the parties do not have standing and are unlikely to prevail in their litigation.

Garibaldi said that until the federal lawsuit is resolved, the litigation in U.S. District Court is expected to hold up some $58 million in equity financing and the Maritime Administration's guarantee of a federal loan of $140 million.

The financing is needed for the project, including payment to a shipbuilder in Mobile, Ala., who has completed 40 percent of the first of two ferries, he said.

Garibaldi said the financing was initially scheduled to close on June 30 but was pushed back because of the state lawsuit. Now, Superferry officials will have to wait until the federal lawsuit is resolved.

He said those who filed the lawsuit are trying to get his company to do an environmental study, even when the same requirements have not been imposed on other businesses, such as interisland barges and ships.

Hall said the Hawaii Superferry officials are making residents choose between its ocean passenger service and environmental laws.

"I'll choose our environmental laws each time, because somebody will come along to do a Hawaii Superferry project and an EA if they're not going to," he said.

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