Ferry sails into make-it, break-it week
Legislative whirlwind swirls over Superferry
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Next week could prove to be the make-it-or-break-it point for Hawaii Superferry.
Gov. Linda Lingle has delayed an 11-day Asia trip so she can meet with legislative leaders on measures needed to allow ferry service to Kauai and Maui to resume. Also, Superferry corporate board members are expected in Hawaii to meet with lawmakers. Lawmakers are asking both the Superferry and environmentalists for proposed operating conditions for sailing the ship between the islands.
The Superferry has been idled by a court order forbidding it from going to Maui's Kahului Harbor, and legislators are looking at changes to the law to allow the ferry to operate while an environmental study is conducted.
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High-level negotiations next week are likely to decide the fate of the dry-docked Hawaii Superferry.
Gov. Linda Lingle is expected to meet today with Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and House Speaker Calvin Say regarding special legislation needed to allow the ferry service to Kauai and Maui to resume.
Also, members of the corporate board, possibly including John Lehman, former secretary of the Navy, and Tig Krekel, former president of Hughes Space and Communications, are expected in Hawaii next week for meetings with lawmakers.
Meanwhile, the Legislature asked both the Superferry and environmentalists for proposed operating conditions for sailing the ship between the islands.
Critics fear the high-powered ship, which can cruise at 37 knots, or about 42.5 mph, is too fast and might hit whales.
Environmentalists also claim the cars and trucks carried on the ferry could introduce foreign weeds or other pests to the rural neighbor islands.
Lawmakers appear to be taking a tougher stance by proposing that the bill to save the Superferry include mitigating rules.
Lingle announced yesterday that she was postponing an 11-day trip to Asia so she could participate in legislative talks.
The Superferry furloughed 249 employees on Thursday, two days after a Maui judge blocked Superferry's use of Kahului Harbor without an environmental assessment.
John Garibaldi, Superferry president and chief executive officer, said he is encouraged that "the governor and the Legislature want to open a dialogue between ourselves and other interested parties."
But Garibaldi would not say that the Superferry could change its planned operating procedures.
Lingle also stressed yesterday that the Legislature not put too many restrictions on the Superferry.
"It is really important to understand that the agreement to be reached ... is really a three-way agreement. The Superferry has to agree this is something that will enable them to stay in business," Lingle said yesterday at a news conference at the state Capitol.
Speaking about the coming meeting with Superferry board members, Garibaldi said board members would be considering the future of the company.
"It is really so that everyone can hear the thoughts of the different players," he said. "They are the ones who, at the end of the day, have provided the needed capital."
Earlier yesterday Hanabusa said the Legislature looks at any new law to keep the ship sailing while a court-ordered environmental assessment is completed as an "extraordinary remedy."
"We can put in the conditions that people feel are the best balance they can strike," she added.
Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) said leaders in the House and Senate are "sensing that people want to see some kind of effort to mitigate the problems and protect the environment."
Such conditions could be special washing of all vehicles before they go onto the ship, low speeds while traversing known whale breeding grounds near Maui and inspections of vehicles.
"The Legislature is concerned, but the Legislature is not saying (save) the Superferry at any cost," Hanabusa said.
Garibaldi defended the Superferry's existing environmental plans, saying it has "set the bar higher than any other maritime interest in Hawaii."
"What we have to do is get out the information to our legislators so they understand how we are operating," Garibaldi said.
Hanabusa said the Legislature is considering a House-Senate special committee to go to neighbor islands and take testimony on the issue.