SHERRY SASUGA / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
Yesterday's ruling seemed to herald a restart for the Superferry. Here, a rainbow frames the ship in Honolulu Harbor.
SUPERFERRY INJUNCTION LIFTED
Ferry to get back in the flow
A Maui judge upholds the Legislature's new statute permitting ferries to operate during environmental studies
» Politicians applaud judge’s ruling
STORY SUMMARY »
WAILUKU » "It's a new beginning," says Hawaii Superferry Chief Executive Officer John Garibaldi.
The Superferry could resume operations in a couple of weeks, Garibaldi said yesterday after a Maui judge dissolved his order blocking the high-speed ferry from using Kahului Harbor pending an environmental review.
Garibaldi said his firm has lost about a dozen employees since originally hiring some 300 people in August and that losses during the halt in operation amounted to millions of dollars.
"It's been a very painful process," he said. "It's getting tight financially."
Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza declined to overturn a new state law enabling large-capacity vessels such as the Hawaii Superferry to skip a previous process of environmental review.
"The obligation of the court is to follow the law enacted by the Legislature," Cardoza said. "This court is not a super-legislature. This court is not a super-executive branch of government."
The Sierra Club, Maui Tomorrow and the Kahului Harbor Coalition challenged the constitutionality of the new law and are now considering appealing Cardoza's latest decision.
The groups contended that the law is unconstitutional because it provides special treatment just for Superferry.
But the state maintained the law would generally cover large-capacity ferry vessels.
The decision spawned positive reaction from the governor and Democratic legislative leaders who noted the ruling endorsed their work in crafting the law. But Kauai Rep. Hermina Morita said the ruling should be appealed.
FULL STORY »
WAILUKU » Maui Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza lifted an injunction yesterday against the Hawaii Superferry, clearing the way for it to resume operation.
Cardoza declined to overturn recent state legislation authorizing large-capacity ferry vessels such as the Superferry to operate in Hawaii during an environmental study.
Attorney Isaac Hall, representing citizen groups Maui Tomorrow, the Sierra Club and the Kahului Harbor Coalition, said his groups might appeal Cardoza's decision to the Hawaii Supreme Court.
"This is far from over," he said.
Hall argued the new law failed to protect the environment as well as customary and traditional native rights, as guaranteed under the state Constitution. He also argued that the new law is unconstitutional because it provided special legislation designed to help the Superferry.
Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett said the new law is constitutional because it is a general law affecting large-capacity ferry vessels.
Bennett said the state Legislature also balanced competing policy interests about the environment and use of resources, and the governor established conditions to protect the environment.
The court hearing was tense at times.
Hall warned that if people did not receive justice in the courtroom, they might seek justice in the water blocking the Superferry.
"This has been done ... so wrong that if this court dissolves this injunction, there will probably be those who feel the only way they can secure justice is in the water," Hall told Cardoza.
Hall, interviewed later, said his comments were not a threat, but a social comment on the dissatisfaction of many people on Maui and the formation of a large coalition among residents on Hawaii, Maui and Kauai because of the Superferry.
Bennett said he felt Hall's comments were inappropriate, and he hopes people will conduct themselves in a law-abiding manner.
The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled on Aug. 23 that the state should be required to prepare an environmental assessment about improvements at Kahului Harbor for the Superferry.
Cardoza, responding to the Supreme Court decision, ruled on Oct. 9 that the Superferry had to prepare an environmental assessment prior to operating at Kahului.
The issue has drawn protests on Kauai, where hundreds of demonstrators blocked the Nawiliwili Harbor entrance with surfboards and vessels, and on Maui.
Environmentalists fear the Superferry will be a new entryway for invasive species, while native Hawaiians in rural areas worry visitors in their vehicles will deplete ocean and mountain resources.
Cardoza let stand yesterday his Oct. 9 decision to allow Maui Tomorrow and other citizen groups to receive attorneys fees from Hawaii Superferry, based on them prevailing in their former injunction.
Politicians applaud judge’s ruling
Hawaii's Republican governor and Democratic legislative leaders agreed yesterday that a Maui judge's ruling validates their work in passing a law to keep the Hawaii Superferry operating while an environmental impact statement is pending.
"Judge (Joseph) Cardoza recognized that the Legislature and our administration worked cooperatively, within the boundaries of our state Constitution, to pass a law that preserves an important interisland transportation alternative for the people of Hawaii," Gov. Linda Lingle said.
Senate President Colleen Hanabusa said: "It (the ruling) was what I expected.
"I am glad that the law withstood the constitutional challenges, because the Legislature was careful in how it fashioned this remedy," said Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua). "The fact that Judge Cardoza agrees validates what the Legislature did."
House Speaker Calvin Say said, "It is great news for the people of the state. We are giving the Superferry the chance to show what it can do. I would ask that all parties try and let the Superferry sail and do its best."
"As the interisland ferry service resumes, we will continue to work closely with environmental, cultural and agricultural organizations, the counties, the community and Hawaii Superferry officials to ensure specific conditions are followed to minimize the impact on Hawaii's natural and cultural resources," Lingle said in a written statement.
Reaction from neighbor island legislators was mixed.
Rep. Hermina Morita, who had voted against the bill allowing the ferry to operate while the assessment is done, said she believes the judge's decision should be appealed.
"I don't think the constitutional issues were adequately addressed," said Morita (D, Hanalei-Kapaa).
Rep. Joe Souki, one of the ferry's strongest supporters in the House, was pleased with the outcome.
"I'm very happy with the judge's decision, and let's get this moving on," said Souki (D, Waihee-Wailuku). "Hopefully, the ferry can commence soon so that the public and the businesses can enjoy the ferry."
He said he expected the decision to be appealed.
"I'm hoping that they won't do it," he said. "If they appeal it and if there's an injunction because of the appeal, that would just kill the whole project."
Members of the Kauai organization suing the Hawaii Superferry for violation of environmental laws vowed yesterday to keep fighting.
David Dinner, president of the Thousand Friends of Kauai and co-chairman of the People for the Preservation of Kauai, said the groups will continue to fight the Superferry in court.
"We fully expect the (Maui suit) to end up in the next court," Dinner added.
Dinner said people who want an EIS before the Superferry travels should not lose hope. "I know that they've tried really, really hard, and they may feel discouraged," he said. "We want to give them hope that it's not over."
Star-Bulletin reporters Richard Borreca, B.J. Reyes and Tom Finnegan contributed to this report.