Superferry nears judge’s decision
WAILUKU » Maui Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza is expected to decide today on whether to allow the Hawaii Superferry to operate at Kahului Harbor while an environmental assessment is prepared.
Cardoza ruled in late August that an environmental assessment was required, after the Hawaii Supreme Court reversed a 2005 decision by him that upheld the state's decision to exempt the Superferry from the study.
Cardoza has halted the Superferry operation at Kahului Harbor while receiving testimony for the past four weeks on whether Superferry officials can operate during the study period.
Cardoza listened to closing arguments yesterday.
Attorney Isaac Hall, representing the groups opposing operations, said the courts did not have the authority to allow the Superferry to operate while conducting an environmental assessment.
Hall argued that Hawaii law is "unambiguous" and requires that Superferry not operate during the environmental review.
He said the state Department of Transportation and the Superferry had ample time to prepare an environmental assessment two to three years ago.
"Had HDOT and Hawaii Superferry listened, they would not be there now," Hall said.
He said testimony showed that its operation could cause irreparable harm based on its speed of 37 knots, or 42.6 mph, and it passing through part of the calving grounds for humpback whales.
He said speeds of 14 knots, or 16.1 mph, or higher could result in serious injury to a whale.
Hall said former Haleakala National Park Superintendent Don Reeser testified the Superferry could cause irreparable harm by introducing alien species.
Hall said in the couple of days the Superferry was in operation on Maui, "true irreparable harm" was done when 1,000 imu or cooking stones were loaded on three pickup trucks en route to Oahu. He said Maui residents are concerned about ferry visitors taking other resources, too.
Superferry attorney Lisa Munger said the resources described by rural Maui residents were not Valley Isle resources, but state resources belonging to residents and visitors.
She said testimony has shown that the Superferry is losing $650,000 a week while being out of service.
Munger said if the Superferry were unable to operate while conducting an environmental assessment and left Hawaii, there was no guarantee it would return.
"Would that have served the public interest? ... The answer is no," Munger said.
Munger said witnesses' testimony showed there was compelling public support for the project from the state administration as well as the state Legislature.
She said the Superferry could be used in emergencies and natural disasters, such as a hurricane, to provide a unique service by transporting troops, materials and equipment.
Munger said testimony from the Superferry's expert witness showed its operation would not cause irreparable harm to humpback whales, because the vessels would operate mainly outside of areas frequented by the endangered species.
State Deputy Attorney General William Wynhoff noted that state plant quarantine manager Carol Okada testified the Superferry did not pose a major risk in introducing alien species, because of its relatively low volume of passengers and freight.