Senate panel
OKs incentives for a
Maui-Molokai ferry

The lack of service the past few
months is hurting Molokai

By Jean Christensen

So near and yet so far.

Everyday, Donna Uahinui stares nine miles across the ocean at her home island of Molokai and feels the pang.

Her family is there, but her restaurant job is on Maui, and she can't afford to lose it.

Nor can she afford the $60 round-trip air fare between the islands.

So she makes her new home, alone, in Lahaina.

"I haven't seen my 5-year-old son since November," she said.

A month earlier, a ferry that shuttled her between home and work shut down. Gov. Ben Cayetano, citing a decline in state revenues, ended the annual $330,000 subsidy for the Maui Princess. Its operator said he couldn't keep it running.

Lawmakers have all but ruled out restoring the subsidy this year amid even grimmer revenue projections.

But Uahinui sees a ray of hope in new legislation that would create nonmonetary incentives for a boat operator to revive ferry service between Molokai and Maui.

"It's more palatable because we don't have money," said Sen. Brian Taniguchi, whose Committee on Economic Development approved the measure yesterday.

The bill would give preferential consideration for ferry landings at the Lahaina harbor to a boat operator who agrees to provide the interisland service, and waive related fees.

That special consideration would end if the vessel's operator shut down the service.

Maui Princess manager David Jung said the state must ensure that the operator who is selected makes more than a courtesy stop on Molokai each day. The vessel should be based on Molokai and, ideally, make two round-trips a day as the Princess did, he said.

"The ferry must have genuine utility for the people of Molokai," Jung said.

Residents need a service they can afford, said Lawrence Aki, executive director of the Molokai Visitors Association.

Most Molokai workers paid $15 for a round trip on the Maui Princess.

The price shot up to $80 after the subsidy was terminated last summer.

Several Molokai residents gave up their Maui jobs after the Princess went out of business, Uahinui said, but 28 continue to live and work on Maui.

Jobs remain scarce on Molokai, where unemployment in December was 13.5 percent, more than double the state average.

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