Hawaii Superferry's first vessel was moved from dry dock across the Mobile River and tied up pierside for a traditional Hawaiian blessing ceremony last month in Mobile, Ala.
Senate bill demands Superferry review
In an effort to delay this summer's planned launch of the interisland Hawaii Superferry, senators are calling for an extensive environmental review of the ship.
A Senate committee approved a bill yesterday that would require a study of traffic, invasive species, harbor space and humpback whale preservation before service could begin. But a similar bill was killed in a House committee that declined to hold a hearing on it.
"There are big concerns," said Sen. Gary Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau), vice chairman of the Environment Committee.
He cited a petition signed by 6,000 people who oppose the Superferry, as well as overwhelming testimony against it from hundreds of residents at meetings held on Kauai and Maui.
The $235 million Superferry, a four-story catamaran, is scheduled to start daily service between Honolulu and the islands of Kauai and Maui on July 1. It will carry up to 900 people and 250 cars with one-way fares of $42 per person and $55 per vehicle.
The Superferry has withstood both state and federal lawsuits that attempted to force it to conduct an environmental impact statement, but the Senate bill would require an environmental study by law.
"This company is committed to helping protect our environment in Hawaii. We want to be here a long time," said Terry O'Halloran, director for business development for the Superferry.
He said the Superferry has gone beyond its requirements to protect the environment.
It will prohibit dirty cars from coming on board, require slower ship speeds in areas with high whale populations and hire two lookout workers on the bridge to spot whales, he said.
Critics of the Superferry claim that little has been done to prevent major traffic jams on at neighbor island harbors, and shipping companies have said there is not enough room for both them and the ferry.
"What we need is disclosure. We need a common understanding of the project. We need to identify areas of concern ... and hold the Superferry responsible," said Rep. Hermina Morita (D, Hanalei-Kapaa).
The Superferry was exempted from a requirement that it do environmental studies because the state did not see a need to single out the ship, said Barry Fukunaga, interim director for the state Department of Transportation.
"They're a vessel that's using the harbor just like any other vessel," he said. "To come in after the fact and attempt to impose a special requirement on an operator is incorrect."
Senators argue that the environmental study is justified because the Superferry will be using public harbors that are undergoing $40 million in improvements, but Fukunaga said the improvements were paid for with fees imposed on harbor users -- not taxpayer dollars.