State rejects nonbid ferry study
Progress on calling a special session over the Superferry stalls
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The state has dropped an attempt to award a nonbid contract to do an environmental assessment for the stalled Hawaii Superferry.
State transportation officials, reacting to interest from prospective bidders, figure it would take only three weeks to seek bids from companies. The study would take about eight months.
A Maui Circuit Court judge is holding hearings on whether Superferry will be allowed to operate between Honolulu and Kahului pending the environmental assessment. Superferry officials have said they need "actionable information" in about six weeks to decide whether to stay in Hawaii.
Big Island Mayor Harry Kim testified yesterday on Maui that the Superferry could be a valuable alternative and could help in times of emergency.
Meanwhile, there has been little movement by the governor or in the state Legislature to summon a special session to allow the Superferry to operate while an environmental study is being done.
On Kauai, authorities are preparing for Superferry's expected arrival next Wednesday, but some say expansion of the security zone at Nawiliwili Harbor will hurt businesses.
Jerry Cooper, owner of Hawaii Island Liquidators, is afraid his business will drop 50 percent when the vessel is in port.
"Nobody even came around to ask us what we thought," Cooper added. "Everybody's so caught up in the protests, they're missing the point."
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The state Transportation Department will seek bids from companies to do an environmental assessment of the still-stalled Hawaii Superferry instead of a issuing a nonbid contract.
The state originally wanted to give the $1 million contract to Belt-Collins, a consulting firm that is already doing a master plan for Kahului Harbor.
"We received calls from contractors who were interested in bidding on the project, and we felt the process would be served by going with a bid," said Michael Formby, state harbors deputy director.
The state Supreme Court ordered the Transportation Department to perform an assessment of the ferry's operation at Kahului Harbor, but transportation officials said they would extend the assessment to the entire state.
Formby estimated the bid process would only add about three weeks and the entire assessment could be completed in less than eight months.
Meanwhile, legislators have not been able to reach any agreement on whether they should intervene to restart the ferry service.
Gov. Linda Lingle, a strong supporter of the Superferry, said she would not consider calling for a special legislative session to change the law to allow the ferry to resume service between Maui and Honolulu while an environmental study is done.
The Honolulu-to-Kauai run is expected to start next Wednesday.
Yesterday, two Democratic senators, Robert Bunda (Kaena-Wahiawa) and Will Espero (Ewa-Ewa Beach) called on Senate President Colleen Hanabusa to speed along a special session.
"We should pass legislation that will allow the Superferry to operate until the court decides," Espero said.
The pair said in their letter that "there is overwhelming public support for a legislative compromise."
Hanabusa, however, called the possible session complex and controversial.
"I guess we could just come in and sit there and waste taxpayers' money," Hanabusa said.
"It is not a simple case. You don't know what the court is going to rule. If the court rules there is no need for an injunction, there is no need for a special session. If the court rules there is going to be an injunction, the question is whether legislators have changed their opinions on the ferry," Hanabusa said.
The Senate during the 2007 legislative session wanted to allow the ferry to run while an environmental impact statement was completed, but the House refused to hear the Senate bill.
Rep. Kirk Caldwell, Democratic House leader, said yesterday the issue is still premature.
"Most people are concerned about stepping into a fight that isn't of their own making," Caldwell (D, Manoa) said.
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Neighbor isle officials offer support for vessel
WAILUKU » Big Island Mayor Harry Kim weighed in in favor of the Hawaii Superferry yesterday, saying it should be allowed to operate while an environmental assessment is being done about its impact on Kahului Harbor.
"A ferry system would provide a valuable alternative," Kim testified in a court hearing, noting also that the Superferry could be of use during emergencies.
The hearing continues today before Maui Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza, who is to determine whether the interisland passenger and vehicle transport vessel can resume operations.
Cardoza halted Superferry operations late last month after the state Supreme Court ruled the state needed to complete an environmental assessment.
Before the court ruling, state transportation officials had exempted the Superferry from an environmental assessment, and state Rep. Joseph Souki of Maui chose to kill a bill last session that would have required an environmental impact statement before the ferry began operations.
Valley Isle groups including Maui Tomorrow have argued Superferry officials were warned of the risks they were taking when they decided against doing an environmental assessment.
Kim said he felt the rules of doing business were being changed, and businesses have in the past expressed worries about the unpredictability of operating in Hawaii.
"The biggest difficulty for them are the rules are changed during the course of the game," Kim said.
Under cross-examination, Kim said he wasn't aware that a cruise ship and shipping companies such as Matson Navigation and Young Brothers have been required to complete environmental assessments.
He said he had no personal knowledge of the traffic conditions, recreational uses and alien species threats at Kahului Harbor.
Maui Chamber of Commerce President Pamela Tumpap said many Maui businesses would benefit from the Superferry because it would help save money in transportation costs for such business people as farmers, construction officials and movie producers.
Tumpap said the quicker the Superferry is in operation the quicker businesses will realize cost-saving benefits.
"This issue is a great concern for businesses overall," she said.
Duane Kim, the Maui manager of the Superferry, said some 34 people work for the business on the Valley Isle, including employees assigned to the firm's inspection station at the harbor.
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Security-zone businesses fret over lost customers
LIHUE » The Coast Guard's plans for keeping protesters and the Hawaii Superferry safe on upcoming trips to Kauai may wind up hurting some of Kauai's least fortunate.
The expansion of the security zone around Nawiliwili Harbor includes Waapa Road, which means that three business -- including the Kauai Food Bank -- will be inside the zone, while their customers, including the needy, will be outside.
The businesses and the food bank will be allowed to remain open, but owners say they expect the new regulations will severely hamper their work.
"My business will drop by 50 percent," said Jerry Cooper, owner of Hawaii Island Liquidators. "My trucks won't be able to come in."
Even worse, Cooper said, Gov. Linda Lingle has announced the Superferry will travel in the middle of the day, when his business and the Kauai Food Bank see most of their customers.
"If they can't pick up food, it will be a hardship for all concerned," said Judy Lenthall, executive director for the Kauai Food Bank.
The food bank, which serves the needs of about 5,000 emergency food requests per month, has shopper hours between 8 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Then there are the delivery trucks from about 70 nonprofit groups that distribute food all around the Garden Isle, Lenthall said.
The Superferry's arrival is set to close the port down for the hour before the ship arrives, the hour it's in port, and then another 10 minutes after it leaves.
So, without customers for two-plus hours a day, six days a week, Island Liquidators is sunk, Cooper said.
Waapa Road is the only way out of the two businesses, as well as Hesse Flooring, which sits just next to the harbor gate. It's also the only way to access the Superferry's section of Nawiliwili Harbor.
"I understand it's a strategic point," Lenthall said.
A Coast Guard spokesman said that on-land security measures are being handled by the Kauai Police Department. Police Capt. Ale Quibilan said he would not give specifics on the plan to secure the harbor.
Lenthall and Cooper both said the KPD and the Coast Guard have been responsive, and, after a week of discussion, Cooper got assurances from the KPD yesterday that customers for the three stores will be able to get through any roadblocks on Waapa Road.