Everyone has role in protecting Hawaii
By Rep. Kirk Caldwell
Although the public is more than a little tired of the Superferry story, there are dimensions to it well worth exploring that will change the way development is planned in Hawaii in the future. And, directly or indirectly, this will affect everyone who lives here.
The supreme court ruling
At the center of this change is the ruling issued by the State Supreme Court on Aug. 31 in the case brought against the state and the Hawaii Superferry by the Sierra Club, Maui Tomorrow and the Kahului Harbor Association. There are two big takeaways from this ruling that go well beyond the operations of the Superferry.
» First, projects that are potentially covered by Hawaii's environmental protection laws must consider the secondary impacts as well as primary ones in determining if they need to conduct a formal environmental review and what is covered in that review. Because the state's dock improvements in turn allowed ferry operations, then the impacts of the ferry are among the environmental issues that must be addressed.
» Second, the court enunciated that there is an inherent value to public participation. Public interaction in the review process of an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement benefits society as a whole. The court was unequivocal on this point.
These points taken together clarify any doubt that the state, county and business might have had regarding projects they are considering. Going forward, no more playing chicken with the law.
There are those who might label this anti-business. But the decision establishes certainty for the future. When it comes to development of our islands, the best policies are clear, open and up front, rather than vague, private and untimely. In that respect, this level of certainty is an improvement.
Lessons beyond the court
There are long-term lessons learned beyond the court ruling. For all the legal wrangling, point-counterpoint arguing and emotions within the Superferry debate, there has been some extraordinary commonsense savvy.
At one state House hearing, Maui Council Chairman Riki Hokama summed up community sentiment when asking, "When are we saying enough is enough? Who are we building for?"
Those words should resonate with everyone, whether you are a neighbor islander or a Honolulu urbanite. In the future they must be asked and openly discussed before the cement is laid.
Are we building for quality rather than volume?
Are we creating self-contained communities where people can live, work and enjoy life without continually burning away hours in order to travel elsewhere?
Are we using the remarkable resources of these islands in respectful stewardship?
For those who say these questions are too much to ask, wait until there is a project that comes along that impacts you, to see how you feel if it is planned entirely behind closed doors.
Finally, there was a very solid reminder that there is a lot more to doing the right thing than can be covered merely by government regulation.
In the closing moments of the special legislative session, Rep. Kyle Yamashita of Maui gave a floor speech in which he recounted conversations with people from his community who had expressed concerns about invasive species that might be carried by a variety of sources. He called upon everyone to protect against this spread by taking personal responsibility and self-policing. Yamashita got it right. We all have a role in this.
These are lessons of law, private and public institutional accountability and personal responsibility that go beyond Superferry operations and which will guide the development choices of our islands in the future. The recent debate has brought us to an elevated stage of awareness. It will sharpen the focus of the 2008 legislative session on development, sustainability and quality of life. Let's use the experience and knowledge we've gained for the better.
Kirk Caldwell (D, Manoa, Manoa Valley, University) is majority leader in the state House of Representatives.
Superferry fell victim to its own well-oiled hype machine
By Sen. Gordon Trimble
No legislator relished this special session. Yet, beyond personal feelings, the Legislature's job is to make law. If a court interpretation of law resulted from confusion about the original legislative intent, the Legislature is responsible for clarifying the law.
Could this session have been avoided? Absolutely!
As the Superferry's July launch approached, the Senate had an idea of what was coming. During the regular session, we passed Senate Bill 1276 to require the Department of Transportation to conduct an environmental impact statement while allowing concurrent operations of the interisland ferry system. Yet the measure died in the House. Come October, the Senate had to come back to do what we had already done. It is not a surprise that majority members expressed their displeasure with the executive branch at every opportunity.
It is only in retrospect that we can examine the things that went horribly wrong to bring us to where the state is today.
The harbors environment
When government spends public money to alter transportation systems, the expending agency is responsible for an impact study. In the case of the Superferry, the responsibility fell squarely with DOT Harbors. Yet it was also the inaction of past administrations that led to the current deterioration of our commercial harbors. These harbors, our lifeline, are woefully inadequate and congested so that current users do not want to be deprived of the little space they have.
There is legitimate concern for public health and traffic impacts due to infrastructure at harbor facilities, but these concerns could and should have been addressed at the start.
The Superferry might have been a victim of its own marketing. The vessels, while hi-tech, are not particularly large or fast as the name implied. Yet it was the image of a monolithic terror that induced the ire of some.
A vehicular ferry is no different from the roll-on/roll-off vessels that have circled the islands for decades. The Superferry's Alakai is one-third the length of Norwegian Cruise Line's Spirit of Aloha and carries less than one-third of the passengers. The cargo hold is adequate for only 10 shipping containers -- a small fraction of one Young Bros. barge.
Further, the ferry's operating speed depends on typical sea conditions as average speed is always far below the theoretical maximum. A lower speed is also fuel-efficient, with lower operating costs. In comparison to ferries around the world, the Superferry is metaphorically closer to Less-than-Ordinaryferry.
In fact, if the ferry had arrived without the marketing hype that convinced everyone the vessels were big, bold and brassy, coalitions of opposition would not have solidified.
Too little, too late
There is no question that Senate Bill 1 is bad legislation. It singles out one specific type of vessel used in one particular mode of transportation for onerous treatment. It was drafted hastily and the executive branch will not be able to change any special conditions imposed by the Legislature if and when they prove unworkable. Indeed, the Legislature was more interested in chastising the governor than in protecting the environment. If this bill were meant to serve the public good, money and authorization would have been assigned to expand our harbor system to reduce current overcrowding.
It is because of these deficiencies that I voted for SB 1 with reservations. Hawaii residents should not be denied alternatives for interisland movement of goods and people. It is wrong to use laws designed to protect the environment as a way to prevent competition in air and ocean transportation between the islands.
In nine hours of testimony, those who opposed the Superferry fell into three distinct groups. Some came to advocate Hawaiian sovereignty. Others feared change. And the last group viewed all business as anti-environment. Most of these opposition groups made points that were neither germane nor relevant. A simple message could be distilled from the din: Hawaii Superferry is the bad guy.
Further, when a testifier asked the joint Senate Judiciary, Energy and Environment, and Tourism and International Affairs committee about the requirements for an EIS, the hearing became heated. While the overall concept is pretty simple and straightforward, senators refused to answer questions. This attitude only increased the rancor of the testifiers.
Environmental impact statements and environmental assessments are only diagnostic: there is no requirement in statute for mitigation efforts. From past testimony and other disclosures, the public, Hawaii Superferry and the state already know the problems an EA will reveal.
Yet, in a great waste of taxpayers' money and time, the Legislature convened to placate, rather than provide a meaningful solution. In the end, my majority party colleagues extended their vendetta against the governor to the second-to-last motion of this special session (the last motion adjourned the session).
Beyond a doubt, this session started as a mistake with opportunities to be useful. It was the legislators who allowed it to end as a mistake.
Gordon Trimble, a Republican, represents the Downtown-Waikiki area in the state Senate. He has a master's degree in economics and is a past administrator of U.S. Foreign Trade Zone No. 9.