SUPERFERRY SESSION: CRITICS GRILL GOVERNOR
Superferry bill steams ahead while some merely steam
Lingle expects to have sailing conditions in place when the interisland service is ready to restart
» Thielen grilled before panel OKs her for post
STORY SUMMARY »
The Hawaii Superferry bill is advancing at the Legislature, although legislators confess to being filled with misgivings and reservations.
The bill exempts the Superferry from state environmental law, allowing it to sail while an environmental impact statement is done.
Gov. Linda Lingle, who called the Legislature back into session to save the boat, told House members yesterday she was readying environmental conditions for the vessel.
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DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
The state House and Senate voted yesterday on versions of the Superferry bailout bill, after holding public hearings last week at the state Capitol auditorium. John Garibaldi, Hawaii Superferry president, was among those attending the House hearing Thursday.
Gov. Linda Lingle said her administration hopes to finish work on special environment conditions within two weeks of the Legislature's passage of a bill to allow the Hawaii Superferry to operate pending an environmental study.
During a state House hearing yesterday, Lingle noted that Superferry officials estimate it will take about two weeks to get the vessel back into service.
"The sooner they can get their employees back, the sooner they can get the service up. I wouldn't want to hold that up, so hopefully, within that time frame I would be ready," Lingle said.
Lingle said she plans to require more conditions than those already specified by the Senate bill, SB 1, which is now before the House.
"I am willing to predict that the conditions will be more than what Superferry wants and fewer than the opponents would like," Lingle told House members.
The bill easily cleared the Senate yesterday, with only five neighbor island Democratic senators voting against it: Roz Baker, J. Kalani English, Gary Hooser, Shan Tsutsui and Russell Kokubun.
In the House, critics, including Rep. Marcus Oshiro, said the Senate bill is forcing the Legislature to choose between the environment and the successful operation of the Superferry.
"You will be taking apart and setting apart 30 years of law and policy in the state of Hawaii for this one company," Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho), chairman of the House Finance Committee, said to Lingle.
As Lingle tried to answer during the afternoon hearing on the Senate bill, Oshiro interrupted: "Do you realize this is a major policy shift? ... We are asking for special legislation for one project. Do you understand the enormity of what you are asking us to do?"
"It seems astounding that one would put so much political capital on the line," Oshiro said.
Lingle answered, "Every one of you is going to have to make that decision, and when your name is called you are going to have to vote."
After the hearing, Lingle said she was pleased with her one hour of testimony, adding that she thought Oshiro was just trying to pick a fight.
"Marcus Oshiro either has a different point of view or he just wanted to make it political. Clearly, he just wanted to argue with me. He wasn't there to ask me my opinion," Lingle told reporters.
Rep. Alex Sonson (D, Pearl City-Waipahu) said he worries about passing a law clearly for one business. "I am troubled, as are a lot of my colleagues -- we might be acting at the behest of a single company. ... Just because a majority of the people want it doesn't mean it is right," Sonson said.
In the Senate, even Sen. Brian Taniguchi, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which shepherded the bill through the Senate, said he did not like it.
"Initially, I was opposed to a special session to help a company and a governor who had been intent on circumventing what they considered an inconvenience," Taniguchi said.
Lingle and the House and Senate leadership worked on the bill that would permit the ferry service to resume. The Senate then amended the bill to add additional environmental safeguards to be followed while the EIS is prepared.
A Maui circuit judge issued an injunction on Superferry's operation to Kahului Harbor after the state Supreme Court said in August that environmental assessments needed to be prepared.
The state Department of Transportation had originally exempted the ship from an assessment.
Thielen grilled before panel OKs her for post
Gov. Lingle’s choice for the land agency is pointedly questioned about the Superferry
Laura Thielen, appointed to head the Department of Land and Natural Resources, received a vote of support from a Senate panel hearing her nomination, but not before questioning on how she would handle future projects similar in size and scope to the Hawaii Superferry.
Yesterday was the second day of hearings on Thielen, who was nominated by the governor in late July. Lawmakers heard roughly five hours of testimony Thursday on her nomination, mostly in support.
In the end, the Senate Committee on Water and Land recommended her confirmation by a 4-0 vote.
But some of the toughest questioning came from Sen. Gary Hooser, one of four senators not on the committee who attended yesterday's two-hour hearing.
Hooser's main concern focused on why the Department of Land and Natural Resources did not send a representative -- Thielen or a deputy -- to attend at least one of the Legislature's hearings on the bill that would allow the Superferry to sail while an environmental impact study is conducted.
He noted that the department did not even submit written testimony.
"It truly bothers me that the Department of Land and Natural Resources, when its primary function is to protect and manage our resources, was not there," said Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau).
Thielen said she was testifying on a court case on Wednesday, when the Senate held its public hearing on the Superferry bill, adding that she does not have a first deputy who could have represented her.
She added that she and her department have focused on working in-house on implementation and enforcement of the conditions that would be put in place for the ferry if the bill is passed.
"I wanted to put our efforts, in this limited time frame, into looking at what conditions should be imposed," Thielen said. "I felt that was the most valuable use of time for the department."
The House and Senate have passed a bill allowing the ferry to sail while the study is done.
When asked in hindsight about what approach she would take, Thielen said she probably would have attended at least one of the hearings or sent a representative.
Hooser also asked whether Thielen agreed with the Department of Transportation's decision to exempt the ferry from having to do an environmental assessment. The Supreme Court ruled in August that the exemption should not have been granted.
"I think we've all learned a lot in the last few months about the environmental impact law," she said. "I think it would behoove any developer or proposal of a significant project of this size to do an environmental assessment."
Thielen would replace Peter Young, whose nomination for a second four-year term was defeated by the Senate during the regular session. Her nomination now goes to the Senate floor for a vote, which is expected tomorrow.