Superferry grumbling persists
KAILUA-KONA » Hawaii Superferry executives and state officials held another round of public information meetings on the service, still hearing the same concerns raised years ago.
At meetings on Kauai and the Big Island last week, residents again asked questions about the lack of an environmental study, the impact on traffic, the possibility of nonnative species spreading from island to island, and the danger of collisions with whales.
Superferry officials say surveys indicate 70 percent to 80 percent of residents support the daily ferry service from Honolulu to Nawiliwili on Kauai, Wailuku on Maui and Kawaihae on the Big Island. But opponents persist.
Terry O'Halloran, Superferry director of business development, said the company is listening to the concerns and is taking steps to ease them before the Oahu-Maui-Kauai service begins in July. A second ferry will begin daily runs between Honolulu and Kawaihae in 2009.
"Many of the things we are going to do are above and beyond any rule or regulation," O'Halloran said.
He pointed to specialized employee training with the Department of Agriculture, the addition of two whale-spotters on each journey and a barge-ramp system to speed embarkation and disembarkation.
Barry Fukunaga, deputy director of the state Department of Transportation's Harbors Division, told about 85 people at last week's presentation in Kailua-Kona that the U.S. Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration determined an environmental review was not necessary.
"No other carrier is or has been required to undertake an (environmental impact statement) as a condition for engaging in maritime activity," Fukunaga said.
The lack of an environmental review prompted the loudest grumbles from more than 100 residents at an earlier presentation on Kauai, but the same protests were not raised on the Big Island.
Traffic was a major concern in both hearings, O'Halloran said. Each ferry trip will carry up to 110 vehicles -- everything from motorcycles to school buses and delivery trucks -- and 400 passengers.
Harbor facilities on each island have enough room to hold that many vehicles and will be open 90 minutes before departure. This will prevent blocking traffic on public roads, O'Halloran said, and the ferry schedule was developed to avoid arrivals and departures at peak traffic times.
The barge-ramp combination, which is expected to arrive in Honolulu in March, will facilitate speedy loading onto the 353-foot, four-deck ship.
Drivers will have to present a valid license, vehicle registration, proof of insurance and a notarized letter if they are not the current owner. Also, all vehicles must be clean -- no muddy tires or caked-on dirt allowed.
"We are committed to education," O'Halloran said. "It's important that every passenger understands what they can and cannot bring on board."
All plant and plant parts will need a certificate of inspection from the state Department of Agriculture's Plant Quarantine Office. Also, the ferry will be coated with an ultra-slippery nontoxic paint to prevent transporting alien species.
The Superferry has adopted a whale avoidance policy, which, in addition to adding spotters on the bridge, will see the ferry changing routes to skirt known whale areas and slowing from 35 knots to 25 knots when in shallower waters, the same speed other vessels maintain.
The policy is stricter than federal regulations and gained unanimous support from the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Council.
The next round of public information hearings is scheduled for March.