Requiring oversight of Superferry better than a lawsuit
A Senate committee has approved a bill to require an environmental study of the Hawaii Superferry.
AS good as their motives are, state lawmakers are arriving on the dock
of an environmental review of Superferry operations just as the ship is about to sail.
Passing a measure now to require what state officials deemed unnecessary two years ago would invite an expensive, protracted legal battle, during which the ferry could run unchecked anyway.
If legislators want to achieve more than a lawsuit, it would be better to come up with a bill that would allow an intensive, real-time study of the effects the ferry has as it runs between islands while correcting or heading off problems before they occur. In addition, they could require relevant state agencies to set rules and monitor compliance.
When the Superferry was proposed more than two years ago, most people welcomed another way to travel around the state. But proponents and critics have differed over the consequences of the vessels' movement between islands.
Concerns included inadvertent spread of non-native and invasive plants and animals by vehicles being transported, traffic problems at ports during departures and arrivals, easing distribution of illegal drugs and other contraband, endangering whales and other marine animals, and adding another competitor for space at already crowded harbors.
Superferry officials contend they have gone overboard in resolving concerns. For example, they say vehicles will be inspected and dirty cars refused boarding. However, the company's plans allow less than 10 seconds per vehicle for inspections, certainly not enough time to spot tiny seeds and insects.
The company proposes slowing ferries to 25 knots to avoid harming whales, but that is almost twice the maximum 13 knots the National Marine Fisheries Service recommends in humpback zones.
State officials exempted the Superferry from environmental requirements because they did not see a need to single it out when it would use harbors much like other vessels that also carry vehicles. But while ships from the mainland bring in cars, they generally are new and clean, and while interisland barges move cars from island to island, none carry as many as the ferry's capacity of 250 cars per trip.
Officials of all three neighbor island counties favor an environmental study, and lawmakers have heard thousands of residents say the same. Though legislators are properly responding to their wishes, passing a law requiring a review at this point -- just months before the ferry plans to start up -- could create a legal morass.
Instead, lawmakers should direct measures -- and sufficient funding -- toward monitoring ferry operations to mitigate environmental harm. Superferry officials have said they are committed to protecting the environment and want to be good citizens. This would give them the opportunity.