ROD THOMPSON / RTHOMPSON@STARBULLETIN.COM
Children fished from the shore at Kawaihae Harbor on the Big Island yesterday as some 2,500 visitors toured the Hawaii Superferry Alakai.
Previews positive, but protests are next
KAWAIHAE » The day before its maiden commercial voyage, the Hawaii Superferry Alakai was on the Big Island for a preview tour scheduled long before a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling put the interisland ferry service in jeopardy.
The reaction to the ferry from the 2,500 people who signed up for tours was generally positive yesterday.
Kumu hula Lani Lee said she's even tempted to fly to Honolulu to try the ferry out before service to the Big Island is scheduled to begin in 2009.
"I think it's fabulous," she said.
There were no protesters at Kawaihae harbor yesterday.
But protesters are expected to greet the ferry in Lihue tomorrow afternoon. A group called HUI R accused the state and the company of "brazen disregard for the law" for beginning service today, two days ahead of a previously announced schedule.
Environmentalists are going to court on Maui tomorrow seeking an injunction to stop the ferry service dead in the water until an environmental study is completed.
Environmentalists worry that the Superferry, which will carry up to 500 passengers and 150 vehicles each way on its initial voyages, could collide with humpback whales, spread invasive species and create long traffic delays.
The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state should have conducted an environmental assessment before constructing improvements to Kahului harbor and ordered the case back to Maui Circuit Court.
Yesterday, Gov. Linda Lingle defended her administration's decision to allow the Superferry to sail without an environmental assessment.
"We want the people of Hawaii to have as many as options as possible in moving between the islands," Lingle said.
"There's nothing in the ruling regarding stopping them (the Superferry)," Lingle said. "I don't think it would be appropriate to stop one vessel from using the state's harbors because the court didn't say that."
On Maui, improvements to roads leading to Kahului harbor were expected to have been completed yesterday after a separate court order from a Maui judge.
At Kawaihae, farmer Woody Young just wanted to drive his 15-passenger van, emptied of seats and loaded with tomatoes, onto the ferry and onward to a farmers' market on Oahu.
"That's not a problem," answered company director of business development Terry O'Halloran.
What about bringing a horse on board? Young asked.
That's OK too, O'Halloran said, as long as it's in a trailer, and its hooves have been properly cleaned.
Hilo resident Brenda McRae quipped, "It's a good thing there were no protesters around when the airlines started. Otherwise we'd still be using canoes."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.