Ferry bill set to pass
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With a bill now in hand that would allow the Hawaii Superferry to sail while an environmental review is conducted, it is up to the Lingle administration to establish the detailed rules under which the vessel can sail.
The bill, expected to win final approval today, sets the broad conditions of operation.
"I'm predicting in advance that the Superferry supporters will believe I put too many conditions, and the opponents will believe I didn't put enough conditions," Gov. Linda Lingle said yesterday.
Senate President Colleen Hanabusa said the Legislature can always come back during its regular session in January if it feels more needs to be done.
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The special legislative session to save the Hawaii Superferry wraps up today with lawmakers poised to give final passage to a bill that would allow the vessel to sail while an environmental study is completed.
Senate Bill, Senate Draft 1, imposes tougher conditions than the bill introduced in both chambers at the beginning of the session last Wednesday, but has emerged as the one most lawmakers can live with.
"It was a result of many, many hours of hearings on the Senate side," Senate President Colleen Hanabusa said, noting that the chamber heard 16 hours of testimony during visits to the neighbor islands in helping to craft the bill.
"We believe that the Senate bill is as good a compromise as one can (have) under the circumstances," she added, "and we hope that it makes its way through the whole House."
The bill faces one final vote in the House, which passed the measure by a preliminary vote of 42-5 yesterday with four members absent.
"I'm glad things seem to be moving forward," Gov. Linda Lingle said. "I felt from the first hearing about this service that this was going to be good for the people of our state.
"I feel very good about it at this point, but I'll wait until it's completely run its course here and hopefully they can get up and running quickly."
Voting no on the measure in the House were neighbor island Reps. Mele Carroll, Faye Hanohano, Hermina Morita and James Tokioka, joined by Oahu Rep. Maile Shimabukuro. All are Democrats.
The special session was called to craft a law that would allow the Superferry to operate while a comprehensive environmental impact statement was conducted.
The Supreme Court had ordered that an environmental assessment should have been performed before the state proceeded with $40 million in harbor improvements for the service. A Maui judge later ruled that the ferry could not sail while the environmental study was done.
The Department of Transportation had granted an exemption to the ferry on the assessment, saying it was not fair to single out one company to perform the task when the same is not required of other harbor users or interisland transportation services.
After a week of hearings that included taking testimony on neighbor islands by the Senate, but not the House, the amended Senate bill emerged.
The amended bill requires the Superferry to devise a plan for how it would handle whale collisions and requests that a National Marine Fisheries Service observer be on the ferry when traveling through whale waters.
Passengers would be barred from taking fishing nets or soil and dirt on board, they would have to declare all plants and fruits or invasive species, and the ferry would have to inspect all vehicles prior to boarding.
The rules, their implementation and how they would be enforced are being drafted now by the Lingle administration.
Hanabusa said that between now and January, when the Legislature convenes for its regular session, lawmakers and the public will be able to determine whether the sailing conditions are appropriate and whether any changes are needed by the Legislature.
"We believe that we are the stopgap for this," Hanabusa said. "We will have the ultimate responsibility."