Legislature could save Superferry, Lingle says
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Gov. Linda Lingle is raising the possibility of a special session of the state Legislature to rescue the Hawaii Superferry.
She did not commit to calling lawmakers back to the Capitol. But Lingle said yesterday that if a Maui judge rules that the ship cannot serve the island until an environmental assessment is done, then a new law might be needed to save the business.
The $350 million operation cannot survive if its Maui service is on indefinite hold, Lingle and others contend.
On Maui, meanwhile, court hearings are expected to last at least through next week.
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The Hawaii Superferry would be crippled by a court ruling stopping operations pending an environmental study, Gov. Linda Lingle says.
"At some point they have to operate, or they will not be able to survive," Lingle said yesterday in an informal meeting with reporters at the state Capitol.
"If the court on Maui ruled that they could not operate during the entire time the EA (environmental assessment) is being prepared, that would be an important factor in deciding whether or not to have a special session. It would probably be the key factor," Lingle said.
The Supreme Court ruled last month that the state must do an environmental assessment of $40 million in Superferry-related improvements to prepare the harbors in Honolulu, Kahului and Nawiliwili for the 350-foot ship. A Maui judge has blocked trips to the Valley Isle pending hearings on whether the ship can operate while the environmental study is done.
A Kauai judge is also considering a preliminary injunction request to stop trips to the Garden Island.
State officials had previously said no assessment was needed, causing environmentalists to sue.
Lingle and legislators have previously speculated that the Legislature could pass a law allowing the ship to operate while an environmental assessment was being completed.
In its last session, the Senate approved a bill that would have allowed the ferry to run while an environmental impact statement, a more thorough two-year review, was completed. But the bill was not heard by the House.
Superferry officials have declined to say how much longer they can remain in business without revenue.
The ship is expected to resume operation between Honolulu and Kauai on Sept. 26, but ferry officials said they also needed the revenue from Maui to make a profit.
Senate President Colleen Hanabusa said yesterday that she met with Superferry officials Monday and was told that the ferry could continue for only six weeks without paying passengers.
"They told me they have the staying power of a month or a month and a half," she said.
Hanabusa said there has been no agreement about going back into session to adjust state law.
"I have no sense that we were going to do anything in particular and definitely did not have a sense that we would call ourselves back into session," Hanabusa said.
Jeff Mikulina, president of the Hawaii chapter of the Sierra Club , one of three groups that sued to require the environmental assessments, said the state should not exempt the ship.
"It would be shortsighted and inappropriate. It always seems when a company or a developer ignores our law and then gets nailed, the first thing they want to do is change the law," Mikulina said.
Lingle, however, said it is a responsibility of government to make sure that court rulings are acceptable to the public.
"The court is not the last say," Lingle said. "It is the opinion of the court at that time. I don't think anybody should feel that there is anything wrong with the Legislature passing a law to overturn what a court said.
"The court has to interpret the law as it see it, but if it results in something the elected people feel is not in the best interests of the public, it is not just their right, but their responsibility to make it OK," Lingle said.
House members are also undecided about returning for a special session devoted to helping out the Superferry.
House Speaker Calvin Say issued a written statement declining to take a position. "Any comment at this time on a special session for the Superferry is premature. The state administration has not yet contacted me about a special session."