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Ferry shutdown to cause economic ripple effects


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POSTED: Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hawaii Superferry advocates say the forced shutdown of the vessel following a state Supreme Court ruling yesterday will adversely affect other businesses and the state's business climate.

Since its launch in 2007, the Superferry has paved the way for less expensive interisland transportation, fostered economic integration between the islands and benefited farmers, producers and shippers who have relied on its ability to transport goods by truck between islands, proponents say. It has created hundreds of jobs, stimulated harbor improvements and shown global investors that Hawaii is open for business.

But the Superferry has been plagued by protesters, legal delays and high seas since its inception. It was open for two days when it shut down for months to answer environmental concerns. A particularly turbulent first winter also gave the company pause. Now, just when the company appeared to be entering into a smooth-sailing phase, a court ruling rendering its legislative exemption illegal has left some wondering whether it will permanently dock the vessel.

“;I'm deeply disappointed by this ruling,”; said David Carey, president and chief executive of Outrigger Enterprises Group. “;It's a tragedy what it says about conducting business in Hawaii. It's a loss for the community and for tourism. There are some really high-quality investors and people running this organization, and I hope for their sake and Hawaii's that they get through this process.”;

State Sen. Sam Slom (R, Hawaii Kai), president and executive director of Small Business Hawaii, said the ruling, sparked by what he terms “;special-interest groups that are anti-tourist, anti-business and anti-development,”; could drive business opportunities away from the state.

“;When the governor took office six years ago, she said the open-for-business sign is on again,”; he said. “;Unfortunately, a number of people have not recognized that. The negative impact comes at a time when, more than ever, we are trying to get new funds into the state.”;

Murray Towill, president of the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association, said that eliminating an alternate means of transportation will hurt residents and visitors alike.

“;It's one more negative impact at a time when we are being bombarded by negative impacts,”; Towill said, adding that stopping the Superferry is likely to further contribute to the downturn in Maui's economy.

John Souza, president of Hawaiian Expediters, said the company uses the Hawaii Superferry to ship 70 percent of its goods to Maui and that a shutdown could hurt business.

“;We use them Monday through Friday,”; Souza said. “;If they closed, it would put us way behind.”;

While Hawaiian Expediters also ships goods by air and by barge, the Hawaii Superferry fills a need in the industry, Souza said.

“;It's quicker, and we have control of our freight from the time we pick it up to the destination,”; he said, adding that the Superferry is half the price of air transport.

Freight shipped via air or barge is more vulnerable to the elements, Souza said.

“;The TSA requires that every air package be opened, and sometimes there is water damage when we ship by barge,”; he said. “;We haven't had a single claim on the Superferry.”;

Some supermarkets, including Whole Foods Market, use the Superferry to ship produce to Oahu from neighbor isles.

Dean Okimoto, president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, said the Superferry opened up doors for many Maui vendors, who were able to bring more products more frequently to Oahu's farmers' markets without keeping them in storage.

“;It's the safest method,”; said Okimoto of the Superferry for shipping produce. “;It's never out of chill.”;

Thomas Kafsack, owner of the Surfing Goat Dairy on Maui, said it would be a shame to lose the Hawaii Superferry as an additional option for transporting his cheese to Oahu.

Last year, Kafsack, who supplies restaurants and stores, loaded up a truck with 500 pounds of cheese to attend the Made in Hawaii Festival.

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Star-Bulletin reporter Nina Wu contributed to this report.