Lack of precedent compels lawmakers to act on ferry
The Legislature and the court system collaborate to protect our rights in a democratic system of checks and balances. The role of the Legislature is to enact new laws and amend or eliminate existing laws. The court interprets and clarifies these laws. Sometimes the Legislature, which is elected and accountable to the public, might disagree with the court's interpretation or decision, and should take action to overrule the court's decision.
Such is the case with the Hawaii Superferry, where there is no clear precedent. Although the Maui court ruled recently that an environmental assessment must take place before the ferry sails, the court has previously favored the Superferry. In July 2005 the Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit by environmental groups that demanded a full environmental review before a ferry service could start. It asserted that the groups lacked standing in the case and that the state had followed proper procedures under Chapter 343 in granting the exemption. Two months later a U.S. district judge similarly dismissed an environmental lawsuit against the Superferry. A written opinion by the attorney general determined that no environmental assessment was required for the $40 million harbor renovation. These differing interpretations encourage the Legislature to act.
I believe elected officials should find a remedy to allow the Superferry to resume service to Oahu, Maui and Kauai while an environmental assessment is conducted.
I am optimistic the remedy will incorporate commonsense approaches to minimize threats to marine life, the interisland transportation of invasive species, and create more solutions to better preserve rural communities.
Within the past month I visited Maui and Kauai and met with their city and state departments. I believe the Superferry is not nearly as major a growth concern when compared with other transportation projects occurring on these islands. I am very concerned about overdevelopment.
Consider Maui's Honoapiilani Highway expansion, new Lahaina bypass road and the Upcountry 10-mile highway project, as well as Kauai's new lane additions to Kuhio Highway and Kaumualii Highway, and the permanent Kapaa Bypass Road, to name a few. These projects are designed to ease congestion but will ultimately lead to increases in building, population and sustainability challenges.
In addition, more mainland and international flights are scheduled to arrive at these islands, bringing even more people. August 2007 -- DBEDT's most recent statistics -- show that Maui and Kauai collectively received nearly 300,000 mainland visitors while Oahu received 250,000.
An alternate transportation option, like the Superferry, is needed to expand the economy, unite families and promote business opportunities while complementing our tourism industry. We must be mature enough and visionary to help the Superferry set the precedent of environmental accountability and fair development standards. If it's done right, residents will soon want competing Superferry price wars.
Tom Brower, a Democrat, represents House District 23 (Waikiki, Ala Moana, Kakaako). He is a member of the Finance Committee, Tourism and Culture Committee and Economic Development and Business Concerns Committee.