CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
State Attorney General Mark Bennett testified yesterday during a packed state Capitol hearing on the Superferry bill.
Senate tugs ferry
Lawmakers listen to a day of testimony as the firm balks at slowing to 13 knots
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A bill to save the Hawaii Superferry is slowly moving through the state Legislature, but senators are concerned that there are not enough environmental safeguards included in the measure.
Yesterday a nine-hour Senate hearing ended with no decision.
The House Transportation and Finance committees hold a hearing at 9 a.m. today in the state Capitol auditorium on a bill to permit the Superferry to sail while an environmental impact statement is performed.
Already, 164 people have signed up to testify, and more than 2,200 people have sent in written testimony.
The House plans a vote on the bill at 8 p.m. tomorrow.
Senators did hear from John Garibaldi, Superferry president, who defended the ferry's environmental practices but was asked by lawmakers to add more protection for whales.
But Tig Krekel of J.F. Lehman & Co., the major investor in the interisland ferry service, said the firm could not go along with all the senators' suggested conditions.
Isaac Hall, attorney for the three environmental groups whose suit blocked the Superferry from using Kahului Harbor facilities, has come up with 29 conditions, including reducing the cruising speed of the ferry to 13 knots from 38.
Garibaldi said it would not be effective to slow the craft to 13 knots.
The House also opens testimony on the bill today, and supporters are hoping to have a bill ready for final approval by Wednesday.
One person who testified in favor yesterday was Greg Nutt, a former helicopter pilot who lost his legs because of a helicopter accident.
Nutt, who now sells electric wheelchairs, said there are "several thousand people in Hawaii" in wheelchairs who would use the ferry.
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Hawaii Superferry officials said the interisland service could not operate with the conditions and restrictions urged by environmental groups.
Attorney Isaac Hall of Maui Tomorrow, which led the court challenge to block the Superferry, has demanded that any new law to allow the service to resume must include 29 conditions designed to protect the environment.
"As a collective group, the 29 Isaac Hall conditions are unacceptable and unusable," said Tig Krekel, vice chairman of J.F. Lehman & Co., the majority investor in the Hawaii Superferry.
Krekel was speaking to reporters after Superferry President John Garibaldi completed more than an hour of testimony before the Senate Judiciary, Environment and Tourism committees.
The Legislature convened in special session yesterday to consider a bill to permit the Superferry to resume operations while the state performs an environmental impact statement on the service.
The special session comes after Judge Joseph Cardoza on Maui ruled this month that the Superferry Alakai cannot operate until an EIS is complete. Superferry officials say the business cannot survive having the 349-foot vessel sit idle for the months it will take to do an EIS.
The Senate committees hearing the bill are expected to vote this afternoon. Meanwhile the House is planning its own hearing on its version of the bill today.
Yesterday, senators suggested to Garibaldi that they would like to amend the bill to require the ferry to follow various conditions.
Some of the conditions included slowing the speed to 13 knots from 38 in waters with whale populations, vacuuming all vehicles and not permitting campers to board the ship unless they had government camping permits.
Sen. Ron Menor, chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, asked for a written response from the ferry officials to each of the 29 conditions.
Garibaldi said, "We are open to things that make sense."
He told reporters after testifying: "There are things that in a modified version we could look at, and there are other things that are a deal-breaker and we can't do.
"We can't slow the speed of a high-speed ferry to 13 knots. It would not be effective."
Early in yesterday's hearing, Attorney General Mark Bennett urged that Senate Bill 1 be amended to permit the ferry to sue the state for future claims but not for past incidents.
Krekel and Garibaldi said the amendment represented "a major give by the Hawaii Superferry" but that they would agree to it as a compromise.
During yesterday's hearing, which ran for more than nine hours, senators were presented with more than 4,000 pieces of testimony. Senate staffers said the testimony was 80 percent in favor of the Superferry.
One person who testified in favor yesterday was Greg Nutt, a former helicopter pilot who lost his legs because of a helicopter accident. The Superferry would free him to travel to the neighbor islands.
"To fly in a plane is a horrible and demeaning nightmare," Nutt said.
While the Superferry is prepared with ramps for people in wheelchairs to just roll on board, airline passengers who use wheelchairs must be carried onto the plane, and their mechanized chairs are often damaged, Nutt said.
Senators, who wrapped up 16 hours of neighbor island hearings this week in which most of the testimony was against the Superferry, also heard yesterday from Oahu businesses in favor of the service.
The Hawaii Food Industry Association said most agricultural products come from the neighbor islands and that the ferry would allow agriculture to remain viable.