Compromise bill good solution for environment and ferry
The state Senate has amended legislation to allow the ferry's start-up as planned while conducting an environmental review.
LEGISLATION to conduct an environmental study of Hawaii Superferry operations without interfering with the start-up of service
is a reasonable proposal that should satisfy those who have sought a review since 2004, the ferry company and people eager to get on board.
However, the compromise bill, expected to be approved by the state Senate today, will confront opposition in the House where Maui Rep. Joe Souki, head of the Transportation Committee, has adamantly refused consideration.
Souki's colleagues, House Speaker Calvin Say and senators should press him to re-evaluate his rejection. The measure might be enough to stave off lawsuits still active before the courts that could eventually churn up other legal entanglements. Though internal House rules allow the committee chairman to block bills indiscriminately, it would not be in the best interests of the public or the company for Souki to employ the rule. The legislation answers calls from Maui, Kauai and Big Island county councils and officials as well as thousands of residents -- including many of Souki's constituents -- for an environmental review and deserves a fair hearing.
Neighbor island senators originally proposed a bill that would require an environmental impact statement, which was waived by the state Transportation Department even though it appeared that spending tax dollars and use of state land would have required one. But because the review would have delayed the start of service planned for July and the company raised the possibility of suing the state, the bill was amended to allow start-up and a study to run concurrently.
Though the ferry has been welcomed as an option for interisland travel, concerns about the potential for adverse effects also have emerged. Among them are inadvertent spread of unwanted plants, animals and other micro-organisms by the 250 vehicles the ferry can carry, distribution of illegal drugs and other contraband, endangerment of whales and traffic congestion at harbor areas.
Ferry officials insist they have measures in place to avoid these problems. If so, the review can confirm the procedures are working and may even help streamline them or eliminate ones that don't prove necessary.
The company should see the review as an opportunity to ensure it is running its ferries in a manner that gives due consideration to the environment and the community. In addition, the legislation would have the state foot the bill for the study, a cost the company would have had to take on if it did its own.
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