STAR-BULLETIN / JUNE 30, 2007
The Hawaii Superferry arrives in Honolulu Harbor.
Superferry sets its own deadline
The company's CEO says information is needed to determine whether it can survive
After being rocked by a storm of protests and legal challenges, Hawaii Superferry says it may be forced to shut down after investing $300 million and hiring 300 employees.
John Garibaldi, president and chief executive of the Superferry, said he needs to have "actionable information" within four to six weeks to determine whether to continue operations of Hawaii's first regular car-passenger ferry service. He declined to elaborate.
He also would not comment on a possible backup plan or how much money his company is losing while its high-speed, luxury catamaran-style vessel remains idle in Honolulu Harbor. A second ferry is currently under construction in Alabama and is scheduled for service in 2009.
"Our current efforts are focused on the resumption of services," Garibaldi said in an e-mail.
Despite fulfilling all of the state's requirements and getting the green light from the Legislature, the Superferry has run into more turbulence than just the rough Pacific seas that have discouraged previous efforts to establish such a service.
The ferry's Maui route has been suspended as Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza determines whether it will be allowed to operate while an environmental assessment is conducted.
A state judge on Kauai will tomorrow consider a request for a permanent injunction to keep the ferry from using Nawiliwili Harbor.
The state Supreme Court unanimously ruled last month that the state should have required an environmental review before the Superferry started service. Environmentalists worry that the sleek, four-story vessel could collide with whales and spread invasive species.
The Superferry voluntarily suspended its Oahu-Kauai service Aug. 28 after two days of demonstrations at the harbor, where dozens of defiant protesters on surfboards and in canoes and kayaks blocked the $95 million ferry.
The 350-foot vessel plans to resume Kauai service Sept. 26 with heightened security and a revised daytime schedule.
Jeff Mikulina, director of the Sierra Club's Hawaii chapter, said the group's goal never was to sink the Superferry but to get an environmental review completed.
"This is a brand-new sort of operation, unlike anything we've had previously. It comes with a certain amount of risk and we just want to understand that risk," he said.
Mikulina said his group requested an environmental review three years ago, so the Superferry's present challenges could have been avoided.
Gov. Linda Lingle, a strong supporter of the ferry, has maintained that the state followed the law. The state determined in 2005 that an environmental review was not necessary because the project fell under an exemption. Judge Cardoza on Maui agreed with the state. University of Hawaii law professor Jon Van Dyke, an expert on environmental and maritime law, said environmental reviews have been required in the United States since 1969 and are needed to protect Hawaii's fragile environment.
"This is a well-established procedure that's now done all over the world," he said. "So the idea that you would try to leapfrog over this logical and important requirement is to me a little bizarre."