Stop the conflict, look for compromise
Protests, harsh rhetoric, criticism and blame swirl around the idled Superferry.
FEW events in recent years have provoked more widespread and fiery debate than has the disorder surrounding the Hawaii Superferry. For proof, just read the letters to the editor in today's edition.
In the week since the Supreme Court ruled that state officials made a mistake when they exempted from environmental review Maui harbor improvements that ferry operations required, contentious exchanges have come from all quarters.
To prevent further conflict, it is imperative that Gov. Linda Lingle seek a compromise that would satisfy legal obligations while doing the least possible harm to the Superferry and addressing genuine concerns people have about the ferry.
The governor should enlist the aid of legislators and neighbor island county officials who have repeatedly cautioned the state about their communities' frustrations, including feelings that they were shut out of the discussion. Moreover, state leaders should acknowledge that while the court's ruling is specific to the Maui case, it is reasonable to assume the law also would apply on Kauai and Hawaii island. Forcing legal action, as a Kauai organization is considering, will drag out the conflict to the detriment of the state and could lead to the departure of the ferry, which might go in search of calmer waters in a more welcoming community.
Unfortunately, officials of the Superferry did themselves no favors when they pushed up the giant catamaran's launch date before a request for an injunction could be filed. That inflamed people, especially Kauai residents, who demonstrated and took to Nawiliwili Harbor to block the ferry from reaching port.
What followed was a flood of finger-pointing and acrimony. Neighbor island people criticized people on Oahu, while city residents shot back at neighbor islanders. Misunderstanding of the law had citizens calling the court ruling unfair. Ferry proponents struck out at the environmental and Maui community groups that had filed the suit. Politicians and corporate representatives bemoaned that the mess added to Hawaii's reputation as a tough place to do business. And over and over came the question: Why wasn't the review done in the first place?
Had it been done, residents would have had an opportunity to present their views for consideration. As it was, members of the public -- particularly on the neighbor islands -- were left with the perception that they were being ignored.
Meanwhile, criticism was heaped on the plaintiff groups for filing suit. To dwell on that fact is pointless; the opponents were within their rights to seek remedy when they believed government acted incorrectly.
As to Hawaii's notoriety in the business realm, uncounted enterprises have successfully set up shop in the islands by being attentive to the community and mindful of the unique geography and environment. When compromises were offered through legislation allowing the ferry to run while assessments were done, the state and the company rejected them.
Few people want the ferry to fail; many people and businesses were looking forward to another method of interisland travel and commerce. Now that offers of compromise are again being extended, albeit tentatively, government and ferry leaders should reconsider their stand. Otherwise, no one wins.