HAWAII SUPERFERRY: ENVIRONMENTAL FEARS GIRD OPPOSITION
Opponents protest as ferry rules take shape
» Ship hit stormy debate on change, CEO says
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GARY T. KUBOTA / GKUBOTA@STARBULLETIN.COM
More than 50 people gathered yesterday at the state court building in Wailuku to demonstrate support for protecting the environment after legislation was passed last week to allow the Hawaii Superferry to resume operation.
Protests against the Superferry on Maui and Kauai drew about 200 people yesterday even as Gov. Linda Lingle and her Cabinet met through the weekend to nail down the conditions for the beleaguered vessel's operation.
The groups sought guarantees that the environment would be protected if the Superferry commences interisland runs before an environmental study is completed.
The state attorney general's office is expected to request today that a Maui judge lift his injunction against the vessel.
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WAILUKU » Close to 200 people -- 50 on Maui and 150 on Kauai -- joined in demonstrations yesterday asking for protection for the environment in the wake of legislation passed supporting a quick start to Hawaii Superferry operations.
The legislation remedied Maui Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza's ruling requiring the Superferry to complete an environmental assessment prior to the start of its operation at Kahului Harbor. It also gave Gov. Linda Lingle the authority to impose conditions on the Superferry to protect the environment.
Russell Pang, spokesman for Lingle, said the governor and Cabinet worked throughout the weekend on the proposed conditions and anticipate announcing the conditions early this week.
The state attorney general's office today is expected to request that Cardoza lift the injunction against the Superferry.
Under heavy rain, a little more than 50 people, including members of Maui Tomorrow, the Sierra Club and Kahului Harbor Coalition, gathered at the state court building on the Valley Isle.
Maui Tomorrow Executive Director Irene Bowie reiterated her group's call for Lingle to impose 12 conditions on Superferry operations, including a speed limit of 13 knots (15 mph) in 100 fathoms (600 feet) or less during humpback whale season from November through May.
The group wants every vehicle to be inspected before boarding for invasive species and to prevent the theft of cultural and natural resources. It also called for a risk assessment to be completed within three months of operation.
Bowie said that if Lingle's conditions do not go far enough, her group will seek to keep in place the injunction preventing the Superferry from using Kahului Harbor.
The demonstration on Maui appeared to be a gathering of environmentalists and native Hawaiians in favor of protecting natural resources that they fear will be depleted by certain kinds of visitors traveling with their vehicles on the Superferry.
"If we don't take care, we won't have anything," said Oralani Koa.
Ray Neilson, who was with his wife and two children, said he felt the Superferry was being used to change environmental laws for future projects.
"It's not just about us or them," Neilson said. "It's about the future generations on Maui."
Also appearing at the rally was state Rep. Joe Bertram, who voted in favor of the legislation. Bertram said Maui needs more conservation enforcement workers.
On Kauai close to 150 people attended a rally at Nawiliwili Park, and many of them launched their surfboards, kayaks and bodyboards to form a circle in the middle of the nearby harbor, said Jimmy Trujillo, spokesman for the group Hui-R.
Trujillo said groups represented at the rally included the Sierra Club, Malama Kauai, Thousand Friends of Kauai, GMO Free Kauai and Kauai Alliance for Peace and Justice.
Trujillo disagrees with surveys that say the majority of the community favors the Superferry. He said people might have given a different response to the question, Do you want the Superferry at the expense of the environment?
Trujillo said Cardoza has already ruled an environmental study should be done because the potential is great for irreparable harm to the environment.
He said the Lingle administration was to blame for incorrectly exempting the Superferry two years ago from doing an environmental assessment.
"We are all suffering from an oppressive government right now, and it's not something we take lightly," he said.
Trujillo said he believes opposition is growing and that people are beginning to feel "this isn't the way we want to do business."
"The fact is, we have really come together -- haole, hippie, malihini, kamaaina, young and old," he said.
Asked about the likelihood of protesters blocking Nawiliwili Harbor if the Superferry arrives before completing an environmental study, Trujillo said, "On a scale of 1 to 10, the likelihood of it happening is a 10."
"People are still passionate about the Superferry needing to do an EIS (environmental impact statement) before it comes here," he said.
Superferry officials were unavailable for comment yesterday.
Ship hit stormy debate on change, CEO says
On Halloween, John Garibaldi said, he greeted a group of trick-or-treaters dressed up as little boats.
"We are the Superferry!" he said they announced.
That level of fame cuts both ways, Garibaldi reflected as his fledgling company rebounds from a series of setbacks.
"We paid a big price to get community awareness," Garibaldi, president and chief executive officer of Hawaii Superferry, said in a recent interview.
The Superferry, an $85 million boat capable of taking more than 850 passengers and 200 cars at 38 knots to Kauai and Maui, became the subject of a weeklong special legislative session after a Maui circuit judge blocked the boat from sailing.
House Speaker Calvin Say, a 31-year legislative veteran, said he had never seen a session like the just-concluded five-day special session for the Hawaii Superferry.
Asked why the Legislature returned to write a law especially designed to allow the ferry to sail, Say said it was public pressure and fears about the state's anti-business reputation.
"There was a campaign by the media -- the surveys, the radio talk shows and also the negative statements that we are really so anti-business," Say said in an interview.
Also, Say said he and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa feared that the state would be liable if the Superferry sued because the state had given the ferry the needed approvals.
Superferry officials say they had a green light from the state, and they relied on those promises to invest millions; arrange for two, new high-speed ocean catamarans to be built; and to hire 350 Hawaii workers. The second is due to debut in 2009.
The state Transportation Department exempted the needed harbor construction for the ferry from an environment impact statement, just as community pressure against the Superferry started to build.
First, paddling clubs in Maui's Kahului Harbor feared they would be moved, then others thought the ship offloading 200 vehicles and loading another 200 would cause traffic jams. Others said humpback whales that breed in the waters between the islands would be hit by the speeding ferry.
On Kauai the worry was that the ferry would add to the feeling of overdevelopment already pushing up housing prices.
"You have all this change," says Sen. Gary Hooser, a Kauai Democrat and opponent of the ferry. "The beaches are deteriorating. ... None of (the growth) is for the people that live here. People are working longer for less. There is this frustration and people feel powerless."
Garibaldi says the ferry slipped into a long-simmering debate on progress and change.
"We became the forum that brought about a public awareness of the issues," Garibaldi said. "It is a very complex issue, and we got caught up in it and appeared to be the straw that broke the camel's back."
Hooser says the flash point was the Superferry's decision to load up the ship in August with $5 fares on a trip to Kauai after the Supreme Court blocked using the Maui harbor.
"The acceleration of the sailing schedule was the tipping point," Hooser said. "I thought it was outrageous and arrogant."
Garibaldi sees it differently. He said the ferry sailed through the Legislature because the normally "silent majority" spoke out in support.
"We learned how deeply local residents considered the need for the Superferry. People started standing up and saying, 'There is something wrong here and we need to address it,'" Garibaldi said.
While the Legislature's action toward the Superferry is probably completed, both Hooser and Garibaldi predicted that the issues raised will continue to resonate at the state Capitol.
Hooser, for instance, said supporters of the ferry said it was unfair that other forms of interisland transportation are not regulated as tightly as the Superferry. He wants to look at adding new regulations to all forms of transportation.
Garibaldi agreed that arguments will continue.
"The issue won't be resolved just by this session of the Legislature," Garibaldi said. "This may mean that other forms of transportation carriers will be under the microscope."
Hooser, Senate majority leader, said he can see the need for more regulation.
"One concept suggested is a sustainable interisland transportation commission, which would look at the big picture and recommend action," Hooser said. "Assessment is the first step, whether it is an environment assessment of everything or just some things to see what the risks are."