Public is due an accounting of Superferry exemption
The state auditor has missed a deadline for a report on the Lingle administration's decision to spare the ferry from environmental review.
As the Hawaii Superferry remains in dry dock, so too does an accounting to the public about how the decision to exempt its operations from environmental reviews came to be made.
The question about the exemption for the ferry that provoked one of the most heated conflicts in the state in recent years was put before the state auditor to examine as part of the special law that has allowed the Alakai to sail.
However, auditor Marion Higa has been unable to get information she needs from the Lingle administration, causing the auditor to miss a March 1 deadline for her office to deliver at least a preliminary report. Higa also told lawmakers the slow pace of information flow might delay a final report that was to be submitted to the Legislature no later than April 20.
The administration has asserted that attorney-client privilege prevents release of documents, e-mails and other information without prior legal checks. Moreover, the administration's invoking of executive privilege will restrict Higa's access, a claim she questions is being properly applied.
Whatever the merits of these assertions, the public is due an explanation to dispel a perception that something untoward was behind the February 2005 exemption. In addition, the report will help clarify whether any revisions are needed in Hawaii's environmental law, a study that the Legislature should require before changes are even considered.
The ferry's exemption resulted in legal challenges that eventually led the state Supreme Court to rule the environmental assessment was necessary. The ruling was overturned last year when lawmakers and the administration agreed to give the ferry approval to operate while an assessment was being done.
The law required the performance audit on how the state conducted its proceedings and determined that harbor improvements should be exempt. It also asks why potential secondary effects were not considered in the process.
Some critics see the audit as an attempt to put blame on the Lingle administration for the furious conflict the ferry generated in the community, but assigning fault isn't the goal. If there are lessons to be learned from the decision, an audit should point them out.
The state, meanwhile, is proceeding with the environmental impact statement and has established a task force to oversee ferry operations and report monthly to the Legislature. Unfortunately, much oversight hasn't been possible since the Alakai has been out of service for more than a month for repairs and won't resume trips until April 22, a few weeks before the session is scheduled to adjourn.
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