Under the Sun
Don’t let ferry conflict separate the islands
THE good thing about the Hawaii Superferry mess is that it has brought to the surface the conflicting perceptions of people who live on the neighbor islands and those who live on Oahu.
The bad thing is that it has done so under feverish conditions, feeding unenlightened diatribe and caustic exchanges.
The bad thing is that it has Gov. Linda Lingle taking a law-and-order stance against many Kauai people as well as other citizens and siding with the ferry company that the mistakes of her administration placed in financial jeopardy by skirting the law.
The bad thing is that balanced statutes designed to protect Hawaii's land and ocean resources could be weakened by legislative tampering, that powerful interests, who regard environmental laws as nuisances that hamper maximum profits, see an opening for diluting them.
The bad thing is that if lawmakers give the ferry company special exception to run its boats while reviews are being done or kick it free of the rules, there are sure to be others who would want and demand the same.
The Superferry's case lays out in high profile the paradigm that others have used on a smaller scale. Want to build a wall where regulations won't allow it? Heck, just put it up, get a slap on the wrist, say "sorry," maybe pay a fine -- it's the price of doing business -- and move on. Happens all the time.
In the three weeks since the state Supreme Court ordered an environmental review of the ferry's operations, the issue remains front and center.
A court on Maui continues to hear witnesses --whose remarks would have better presented in public hearings rather than a litigious stage -- about whether the ferry should be allowed to sail while a preliminary review is conducted. Why this is being argued seems beside the point since the law requires an environmental assessment before a project gets going.
Similarly, the Public Utilities Commission's certificate that allows the ferry's operation is subject to legal compliance. That's because the commission recognized during its hearings that people had legitimate concerns that weren't going to be heard when the state decided to give the ferry a free ride. As things stand, the certificate ought to be yanked.
If that happens, a confrontation with Kauai residents who want a review before the ferry docks again at Nawiliwili, could be avoided. Lingle plans to go to the Garden Isle tomorrow to meet with the community, but the time for conciliation may have passed.
Let's hope not. There's a need to set aside dueling generalizations about Oahu and neighbor island folks. Not all people who live on Oahu are rude, imu-rock thieves. Not all people who live on Kauai, Molokai, Maui and Hawaii are backward-looking bumpkins dependent on Honolulu's commerce. Crime and drug abuse aren't exclusive to Honolulu; all islands have home-grown baddies.
The difference is that Oahu is the center of power. Decisions that affect the whole state are made far away from Makawao, Puhi and Naalehu. The distance fuels disconnection, disconnection fuels discontent.
The good that can come from this ferry fiasco is that we recognize that many of us share the same concerns about traffic, over-development, the cost of living and a disappearing genial lifestyle. There is an opportunity here to bridge more than the oceans and the ferry that separate us.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org