Superferry order to blanket state
Officials concede the environmental issue but protesters are put on noticeSTORY SUMMARY »
LIHUE » Dramatic developments in the Hawaii Superferry saga yesterday had the state bowing to pressure to study the impact the ship will have on all islands and the U.S. Coast Guard ratcheting up its enforcement efforts to allow the ship to dock at Kauai.
The unexpected announcements were made after a closed-door meeting between the Coast Guard, state and Kauai County officials, Kauai community members and Superferry protest organizers.
Officials from the Coast Guard said that the federal security zone will be expanded around the Alakai to encompass most of Nawiliwili Harbor when the ship is in port, prompting members of protest groups to walk out of the meeting.
» The Transportation Department will expand the environmental assessment it has been ordered to complete for Kahului Harbor on Maui to include the entire state and will expedite the process.
» A Kauai environmental group, People for the Preservation of Kauai, will ask for a temporary restraining order today to keep the ship from docking at Nawiliwili Harbor before the assessment is finished.
» The U.S. Coast Guard said those who violate the expanded security zone around the ship will face stiff federal penalties.
» Protest groups said the new security plan would cause chaos.
» Kauai County officials asked everyone involved to use restraint.
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LIHUE » Emerging from a closed-door briefing on new security procedures for the passage of Hawaii Superferry into Nawiliwili Harbor, state officials announced yesterday that they plan to review the impact of the Superferry on the entire state.
What effect the assessment will have on the Superferry's operations will likely be handled by judges this week.
But yesterday, meeting behind locked doors at the Kauai County Building, state, local and federal officials told select members of the Kauai community that a new security zone will be in place when and if the Superferry returns this week. Anyone within the new zone will be arrested on suspicion of stiff federal charges, officials said.
Previously, the Coast Guard said that anyone violating a 100-yard security zone around the ferry faced a 10-year sentence and a $30,000 fine.
The new security zone, bounded by a straight line stretching from the harbor gates across Jetty Road, through Nawiliwili Bay to the Kauai Lagoons Golf Course on the north end of the bay, is for the public's protection and the safe passage of the Alakai to Kauai, said Coast Guard Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hara after the meeting.
Representatives of two of the groups opposing the Superferry walked out of the invitation-only meeting, saying the new rules will turn Nawiliwili into a militarized zone and will cause complete chaos if or when the Superferry returns.
The earliest day for trips to Kauai for which Hawaii Superferry is accepting online reservations is Thursday. But two circuit judges could have a say on when the boat actually makes its next trip to Kauai.
The Environmental Assessment ordered last week by Maui Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza following the State Supreme Court decision will be expanded to cover the entire state, said Michael Formby, deputy director for the Department of Transportation, Harbors Division, after the meeting yesterday.
The EA process is scheduled to take about eight months, but it will be expedited, Formby added.
"Everyone will have an opportunity to voice their concerns," Formby said.
Whether the Superferry can run in the meantime, both to Kauai and Maui, is "up to the judge in Maui," he added.
Another group, People for the Preservation of Kauai, is planning to file its own motion today in Circuit Court in Lihue for a temporary restraining order. Using the Hawaii Supreme Court's decision last week, the group hopes to expand the current restraining order that is keeping the Alakai from docking at Kahului, said Rich Hoeppner, chairman of the Preservation of Kauai group.
Hoeppner, who was at the Coast Guard briefing yesterday, walked out after about an hour, calling the plan "insanity."
The plan would effectively close the harbor to all boat traffic as well as to canoe paddling, fishing, yachting, surfing, sightseeing and other uses, except for those getting on the Superferry, whenever the Alakai is in port, Hoeppner said.
"I'm fearful. I really am," he added. "The Coast Guard is saying, 'We're going to bring in force, we're going to arrest everybody.'"
Dana Labedz of the Surfrider Foundation also walked out on the meeting, saying it was unproductive and that the Coast Guard would not listen to reason.
"It's watching people make really, really bad decisions," Labedz said. "I'm not going to be a part of it. I'm not going to play their game."
However, Kauai Mayor Bryan Baptiste, who hosted the meeting with Kauai County Council Chairman Kaipo Asing, urged everyone involved to use restraint.
"The Supreme Court created a new paradigm, and we're trying to figure it out," the mayor added. "There will be much more clarity in the next couple of weeks."
Jimmy Trujillo, spokesman for the protest group Hui-R, agreed and asked the mayor and Gov. Linda Lingle to urge Hawaii Superferry to continue "their cooling-off period" as the situation plays itself out in the courts.
Trujillo and Keone Kealoha of Malama Kauai said the Coast Guard's plan is still coming together, and without a plan in place, the situation could erupt into chaos.
"It's scary to think they're going to bring an excessive amount of force and not have a plan," Kealoha added.
One idea pushed by the Coast Guard involved an inflatable boom, like those used in oil spills, stretched across Nawiliwili Bay to mark exactly where protesters could stay, Trujillo and Kealoha said.
But that might bring problems for endangered species such as the Hawaiian monk seal and the green turtle, which are often spotted in the area, Trujillo said.
The Coast Guard is trying its best to accommodate all users of the harbor and to ensure "the security of the vessel and the safety of the protesters," said Brice-O'Hara.
"We want everyone to be very cognizant of what the rules and regulations are" before the Superferry arrives at port, she added.
A Hawaii Superferry spokeswoman said last night that company representatives have been involved in the discussion about the security plan and that they "are being kept abreast as the plan develops."
Superferry service to Kauai was canceled last Tuesday after protesters on surfboards and in canoes blocked Alakai's access into Nawiliwili Harbor. Ferry service to Maui was halted the day before when a temporary restraining order was granted on behalf of the Maui Chapter of the Sierra Club, among others.