Belated ruling should not be compounded by slow state response
A Maui judge has ruled that the Superferry cannot operate while the state studies its environmental effects.
On Aug. 23, when the Hawaii Supreme Court instructed a Maui Circuit judge to enter judgment in favor of several plaintiff groups seeking an environmental assessment for the Hawaii Superferry
, it was clear that the ferry could not operate legally without the review.
Now -- after four weeks, more than a 100 hours of testimony, scores of witnesses, indeterminate financial costs to the ferry company and the groups, and a rift in communities that continues to widen -- the judge, Joseph Cardoza, has belatedly concluded that the ferry cannot operate legally without the review.
Though the wheels of justice are said to turn slowly, Judge Cardoza's laxity in focus on the issue at hand - a permanent injunction on the ferry's runs - lends new meaning to the phrase.
Whether state lawmakers will react with similar sluggishness remains to be seen as Democratic House and Senate leaders weigh the political pros and cons of providing legislative assistance to the ferry company, which they should.
Though some legislators would like to be able to point fingers at Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, whose administration, the high court said, erroneously exempted the ferry from environmental scrutiny, they, too, are culpable, ignoring the substantive legal challenges and warnings from county officials. The House in particular refused to consider compromise measures that would have allowed the ferry to operate while an assessment was conducted.
If an emergency legislative session is convened, it is unclear what law could be fashioned to accommodate the ferry company without triggering further lawsuits or conflicts within the community. It would have been prudent for the governor and legislators to have drafted several alternatives to speed review by the public.
Lawmakers must be cautious not to overreact and gut balanced statutes that have served to protect Hawaii's fragile environment. They should also acknowledge that the heated reaction from neighbor island residents and others are as much about the ferry as they are about a frustration with unresponsive political leaders and rapid growth across the state in recent years.
The fiasco that has riven Hawaii from within has likewise tarnished the state from without. News about the friction has been covered in the major media worldwide as well as by travel newsletters, blogs and Web sites.
The Superferry has been largely supported by many segments of the public, including those who favor an environmental review. If not for ill-advised decisions, the ferry could have been transporting residents and visitors between islands with concerns about traffic, invasive species and harm to marine animals correctly addressed.
Should the company quit Hawaii, the loss of economic benefits, travel options, jobs and cordiality will be a loss for all to bear.