CHRISTINA CHUN / CCHUN@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Hawaii Superferry appeared landlocked yesterday as it sat docked in Honolulu Harbor, mired in controversy.
Ruling boxes in Superferry
A judge prohibits service to Maui, prompting Gov. Lingle and lawmakers to seek a special session
STORY SUMMARY »
» THE RULING: Maui Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza blocks Hawaii Superferry operations at Kahului Harbor pending completion of an environmental assessment.
» WHAT'S NEXT: There are two possible actions: » State lawmakers are talking about a special session to pass legislation to keep Superferry operating.
» Superferry is planning to appeal the court decision.
The debate over the Hawaii Superferry appears headed for the state Capitol.
Political leaders are huddling to see whether they have the support to change environmental laws to let the Superferry operate after a Circuit Court judge blocked the service to Maui.
Gov. Linda Lingle is urging House Speaker Calvin Say and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa to act soon because the Superferry company will have to start laying off employees in three weeks.
Maui Judge Joseph Cardoza yesterday blocked the Superferry from using Kahului Harbor facilities without an environmental assessment.
Superferry officials said they were disappointed for the employees and for Hawaii. Their attorney said they planned to appeal the decision.
MATTHEW THAYER / MAUI NEWS VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
Attorney Isaac Hall, center, was congratulated by Pacific Whale Foundation President Greg Kaufman, left, and Maui Tomorrow President Judith Michaels after yesterday's ruling.
Sierra Club attorney Isaac Hall said he is sorry the Superferry is losing money but said the company and the state were warned several years ago that they had to perform an environmental assessment.
Cardoza's decision was applauded by residents opposing Superferry stops on Kauai until an environmental study is done. The decision doesn't affect Kauai's Nawiliwili Harbor. But Superferry officials have said the company wouldn't make enough money by going only between Oahu and Kauai.
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Hawaii Superferry President John Garibaldi spoke to the news media yesterday outside a Maui courtroom after Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza ruled that the Superferry could not operate in Kahului pending completion of an environmental study.
Legislative leaders and Gov. Linda Lingle are moving to rewrite Hawaii's environmental laws to allow the Hawaii Superferry to operate in the face of a state court ruling blocking the service to Maui.
The Democratic leaders, House Speaker Calvin Say and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, have been meeting with Lingle for a month about the Superferry, but it was only after a Maui court ruling yesterday that the trio agreed a special session was needed. Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza granted a request by environmental groups to block the 350-foot ship from using Kahului Harbor.
Quoting an unnamed Superferry official, Lingle said there is little time because layoffs of the 300-person operation will start within three weeks.
"He was especially concerned about his existing employees and how long he could afford to keep them employed," she said. "My understanding is that if it took three weeks and he knew it was going to be that long, he would probably have to start laying off employees."
The company has been losing about $650,000 a week with the vessel idled since late August, Superferry officials have said.
Legislators now will have their own discussions about when and how to call a special legislative session.
"It is going to come down to whatever the legislation is," Hanabusa said. "The speaker and I may be in agreement, but it doesn't mean we are going to have the rest of our caucus in agreement and it doesn't mean the committee hearings will go as smoothly as we would like to think."
Like Say, Hanabusa is a supporter of the Superferry, saying that her own Leeward Oahu constituents are hoping to be able to use the ferry to work on the neighbor islands.
"I think with the polls, we have seen the silent majority. I can tell you when I go to a local drive-in, everyone tells me they are looking for the Superferry," Hanabusa said.
A Honolulu Star-Bulletin poll found that 65.8 percent of the state thinks the Superferry has been treated unfairly. Also, 74.2 percent said they felt the company should be subject to the same rules and regulations as other commercial ships.
A majority, 62 percent, said having a special session to allow the Superferry to operate again is a good idea. About half the respondents on Maui, 48.7 percent, and Kauai, 52 percent, supported a special session, compared with 64 percent and 66 percent, respectively, on Oahu and the Big Island.
SMS Research polled 600 people -- 150 on each of the major islands -- Sept. 27 to Oct. 2. Statewide figures had a margin of error of 4 percentage points, while it was 8 percentage points for the individual island tallies.
The House late today has scheduled what it called "an emergency" Democratic caucus to discuss whether to return. Senate Democrats plan their own caucus tomorrow.
Say said he and Hanabusa would be looking "to see if there is a buy-in for going back or not going back."
Republicans, including Lingle, and Superferry supporters are urging the Legislature to act.
"If there is not some special legislation, the Superferry has to cease operations," Lingle said.
Legislative veterans, however, are warning that getting majorities in the House and Senate to allow the Superferry to operate will be difficult.
"This is not a slam bang," said Rep. Joe Souki (D, Waihee-Wailuku), a former House speaker. "I don't know how we are going to go on this one. It is Round One for the environmentalists, but I don't know if that is a KO or not."
Kauai Rep. Hermina Morita (D, Hanalei-Kapaa) said the Legislature should not try to overturn a court ruling. "Are we going to turn into a banana republic and let the rule of men override the rule of law?"
Morita said existing state law requires Hawaii Superferry to have an environmental assessment before it could operate.
"Just because the administration doesn't agree with the law, doesn't make it a bad law," Morita said.
Lingle said the judge's ruling doesn't stop the Legislature from changing the law.
"I think the public feels our elected representatives are the ones that rightfully should step in an carry out the wishes of the public," Lingle said in a brief news conference yesterday.
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Environmentalists cheer court
Superferry's attorney signals an intent to appeal the ruling
Kauai residents pushing for an environmental review of the Hawaii Superferry for the Garden Island are thrilled with Maui Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza's decision.
"This is a victory for all people who believe an environmental assessment should be done before the Superferry can operate," said Jimmy Trujillo, spokesman for Hui-R, the group that organized the protest of the Superferry's maiden voyage to Kauai in August.
But Superferry officials were disappointed yesterday, and Superferry attorney Lisa Munger said her client planned to appeal Cardoza's decision.
Superferry President and Chief Executive Officer John Garibaldi said: "Obviously, we are disappointed. While the ruling is a loss for Hawaii Superferry and our employees, it is a greater loss for the state of Hawaii."
Garibaldi declined to respond to questions after the Maui court hearing.
Cardoza's ruling affects Superferry travel to Kahului Harbor and does not affect Nawiliwili Harbor on Kauai.
Superferry managers have chosen not to operate on Kauai even though there is no legal obstacle. Circuit Judge Randal Valenciano ruled on Kauai last month that opponents failed to file a timely challenge after the state exempted the Superferry from having to do an environmental assessment.
"We're proceeding with our appeal," said Greg Meyers, an attorney for Thousand Friends of Kauai. "We expect the state and the Superferry to appeal Judge Cardoza's ruling. We don't know what they're going to do. We aim to be prepared."
Besides blocking Superferry operations at Kahului Harbor, Cardoza also declared that an operating agreement between the Superferry and state transportation officials was void.
State law requires an environmental assessment before the operation can start and he was compelled to apply Hawaii law as it is written, the judge said.
Cardoza said the Hawaii Supreme Court had already ruled on the merits of the case by ordering that an environmental assessment be done and that he was following the system of environmental review as required by state law.
Cardoza said the decision should not be looked at as a moment of joy but a time for all to bridge divisions. "If we don't work out these issues, things will not get better," he said.
Garibaldi has said the company would have to transfer the Alakai out of Hawaii if it is allowed to operate only to Kauai.
Superferry officials also have mentioned the possibility of laying off 90 percent of the employees during the environmental review process.
Isaac Hall, representing the Sierra Club and other citizens' groups in the Maui case, said he hoped the Superferry does not leave Hawaii and lay off its employees.
Hall said he was sorry that there will be economic harm to the Superferry but that the interisland service and the state were warned years ago about preparing an environmental assessment.
"The message to the state is, 'Don't abuse the exemption process,'" Hall said.
He said state transportation officials should do a broader study that requires an environmental impact statement and might take one to two years, compared with an assessment that takes about eight months.
Keone Kealoha of Malama Kauai does not expect the Superferry to return to Nawiliwili Harbor until after state lawmakers meet in special session -- if they decide to do so.
Star-Bulletin writer Diana Leone contributed to this report.
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Lingle’s interim nominations due for decision
The Hawaii Superferry won't be the only business before the Legislature if a special session is called to write a new law.
Three interim appointees to Gov. Linda Lingle's Cabinet will be up for nomination, plus about 60 nominees to boards and commissions and a pending nomination to the state Intermediate Court of Appeals.
According to state law, interim appointments must be acted on at the earliest Senate session, so if the Legislature goes into session to handle the Superferry, the Senate must either confirm or reject the pending nominations.
"For the Senate, there is going to be a lot of extra work when we come in," said Senate President Colleen Hanabusa.
Up for nomination are Laura H. Thielen, director of the Land and Natural Resources Department; Darwin Ching, state labor director; and Clayton Frank, state public safety director.
Hanabusa said Lingle hopes to have a nomination for the appeals court vacancy to the Senate by Monday.
During the regular 2007 session, the Senate rejected Lingle's nominations for both land and natural resources and public safety.