House vows it will carry ferry
Democrats say they will convene a special session to change thelaw to let the ship sail
State picks company to perform the environmental assessment
STORY SUMMARY »
The future of the Hawaii Superferry appeared less clouded yesterday as House Democrats agreed to meet in a special session to change the law so the ferry can operate.
Senate Democrats will caucus today to see whether there is support for the special session, which would last five days and convene no sooner than Oct. 22.
House Democrats met yesterday to talk about the session to change state law allowing the Superferry to continue operations while an environmental assessment is conducted.
A Maui judge blocked on Tuesday the Superferry's use of Kahului Harbor.
The Sierra Club, one of three environmental groups that sued to stop the ferry on Maui, urged lawmakers not to go into special session.
Meanwhile, the state is moving ahead with an environmental assessment that would determine whether a more detailed environmental impact statement would have to be done.
Gary Gill, former director of the state agency that oversees compliance with Hawaii's environmental review law, said, "I would say it's very likely that given the issues that are already well known in the public and reviewed by the court that a full EIS would be required for the Superferry project."
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COURTESY KIM FASSLER / STATE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell, seated second from left, talked with Reps. Glenn Wakai, left, and Rep. Della Au Belatti yesterday prior to the House caucus on legislative options for Hawaii Superferry and a possible special session.
House Democrats OK ferry session
To allow the ship to sail, a new law would have to be enacted
The Hawaii Superferry got its clearest political endorsement yesterday as House Democrats tentatively agreed to return in a special session to change the law so the ferry can operate.
The session, according to Democratic Majority Leader Rep. Kirk Caldwell, would not be held any earlier than Oct. 22 and would last for five days.
House Speaker Rep. Calvin Say and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa said Tuesday that they agreed with Gov. Linda Lingle that a special legislative session was needed to draw up a new law to allow the ferry to sail in the face of a court order blocking its operation to Maui.
Yesterday's one-hour caucus among House Democrats was the first broad sampling of opinion from lawmakers on the controversial issue that has sparked protests, threats of civil disobedience and angry public meetings.
"The people in the House think that if there is a way we can keep the ferry afloat that it is beneficial," said Caldwell (D, Manoa).
Lingle is expected to both offer legislation and call the Legislature back into session, Caldwell said.
Today, Senate Democrats are also expected to meet on the issue.
Yesterday's caucus attracted about a half-dozen Superferry opponents who held signs saying the ferry should not sail until an environmental assessment or impact statement has been completed.
To permit the $85 million ship to sail before the assessment is completed because of the court injunction, the Legislature would have to pass a law.
Also yesterday, the Sierra Club, one of three environmental groups that sued to stop the ferry, was urging lawmakers not to go back into session.
"The Legislature would be wise not to manipulate Hawaii's environmental review law to achieve a particular outcome for a single entity," the Sierra Club said in a letter sent to legislators.
Jeff Mikulina, Sierra Club director, said environmentalists "are not convinced the ferry is going away."
"There is a market here, there is demand and they are not going anywhere," Mikulina said.
Lingle said earlier this week that Superferry officials told her the idle ferry is costing investors $650,000 a week and that it cannot afford to keep paying the 300 employees for more than three more weeks.
Although no special legislation has been offered yet, Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) has drafted a bill that would set up a temporary task force to examine the impact of the ferry, including its impact on ocean life, water resources, traffic, public safety and cultural resources, including hunting, fishing and gathering.
The task force, according to Hanabusa's proposal, would report to the Legislature but not have any authority to regulate the ferry service.
State picks company to perform the environmental assessment
Even as lawmakers ponder a special session to make an exception to Hawaii's environmental review law, the state Department of Transportation has hired a contractor to comply with the law as it is now written.
Belt Collins was named late last week as recipient of a $1 million contract to conduct an environmental assessment of the effects of the Hawaii Superferry, said Michael Formby, state Transportation Department deputy director for harbors.
Transportation officials expect to meet with Belt Collins this week, Formby said.
Such a study will gauge the ferry operation's effect on cultural, social, economic and environmental issues and will be "much broader and more in depth than what was presented in court" on Maui over the past month, Formby said.
Cultural issues covered by the environmental assessment will include historic and current cultural uses of Kahului Harbor, such as canoe paddling, fishing, surfing and fish farming, Formby said.
The Transportation Department decided in 2005 that it would exempt itself from such a study, but that was successfully appealed in court by the Sierra Club, Maui Tomorrow and the Kahului Harbor Coalition.
The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in August that the environmental review is required.
"An environmental assessment is a short review of potential environmental impacts of a project," said Gary Gill, who in 1994-98 was director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control, the agency that oversees compliance with Hawaii's environmental review law. "Its purpose is to inform the public of a proposed project and determine whether environmental impacts may take place if the project is implemented."
About 10 percent of projects for which the routine environmental assessment is done are judged to have a significant impact and go on to have a more in-depth environmental impact statement, Gill said. An EIS includes the applicant's proposals for how it will mitigate damage from the project.
"I would say it's very likely that given the issues that are already well known in the public and reviewed by the court that a full EIS would be required for the Superferry project," Gill said yesterday.
The Transportation Department hopes the early review will result in a "finding of no significant impact," Formby said. However, if the more in-depth EIS is required, the state will push Belt Collins to complete it within a year, he said.