Superferry legislation makes the best of a bad situation
Lawmakers are expected to approve a bill to allow the ship to sail while an environmental review is being conducted.
IF all goes as planned, the state Legislature today
will overturn Hawaii courts, and the high-speed ferry that has been stalled by legal rulings will get ready to resume trips to Maui and Kauai.
Lawmakers' singular vote to set aside an environmental law that has stood for three decades, however, might not end the heated conflict the Hawaii Superferry has brought to island shores.
Gov. Linda Lingle, whose administration's decision to exempt the business from environmental review sparked a lawsuit, will have the tough job of establishing and enforcing rules she sees necessary to protect the state's natural, cultural and social resources. Meanwhile, a formal assessment is to be conducted concurrent to the ferry's runs to Kahului, Nawiliwili and eventually Kawaihae.
No doubt, like almost everything else connected with the ferry, whatever conditions Lingle installs will draw controversy. Provisions the Senate inserted in the measure in hopes of avoiding whale collisions and spreading of invasive species will have little consequence. So Lingle's regulations will have to serve as interim safeguards until the EIS is completed and found acceptable, or until the 45th day after the end of the 2009 legislative session, when the special law will expire.
This isn't what Maui residents and environmental groups envisioned when they successfully sued the state to get the assessment done before the ferry was allowed to operate.
Nonetheless, the situation might lend itself to setting standards that could better mitigate the effects of the 350-foot-long ship on marine mammals, including endangered whales, and to gauge the real-life impacts of the as many as 866 passengers and 282 vehicles the vessel can carry interisland.
How the Kauai residents who have been fiercely opposed to ferry operations without a precedent EIS will react to the ship's arrival cannot be predicted. But they should acknowledge that no matter how unfair they perceive recent events to be, lawlessness will not be acceptable. Nor would taking out their frustrations on passengers ease the antagonism that grew out of jarring protests that greeted the ferry's initial arrival on the Garden Island in August.
Lawmakers, in passing the special legislation, are trying to smooth over a divisive situation that has residents pitting their values and desires against those of people on other islands. It is the biggest hurdle state leaders must clear. They should take this as an opportunity to get to the root of the divide, spending more time listening carefully to their constituents' concerns about the future of Hawaii.
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