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Superferry suspended


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POSTED: Tuesday, March 17, 2009

After more than 250,000 bookings in the past 11 months, the Hawaii Superferry has decided to halt operations for now because of a Hawaii Supreme Court decision declaring unconstitutional an exemption that allowed it to operate without an environmental assessment.

The Superferry said it will make one more round trip on Thursday to get vehicles back to their respective islands.

“;Obviously, we are hugely disappointed with the Supreme Court's decision,”; the Superferry said in a statement.

Gov. Linda Lingle said halting the operation of the Superferry would be “;devastating,”; and she believes that supporting the interisland service was the right decision.

She said her administrators were reviewing the Supreme Court decision yesterday declaring unconstitutional a 2007 state law allowing the Superferry to operate while developing an environmental assessment. Her administration supported passage of the law, known as Act 2.

The Supreme Court said Act 2 constituted special legislation and violated the fundamental principle of equal rights and treatment.

Lingle said her administration is reviewing various courses of action in light of the court's decision, including a legislative remedy, possible mediation and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lingle said her administration did the right thing in providing a “;great service”; to the people of Maui and Oahu.

“;Our administration has been in accordance with the law,”; she said.

Superferry officials ceased operations for the present but were reviewing the decision.

The court sent the case back to Maui Circuit Court, leaving the fate of the Superferry's service in question.

Attorney Isaac Hall, representing the three groups that challenged the Superferry in court, warned that his clients will seek an injunction to halt the interisland service unless an environmental assessment is finished.

The Sierra Club, Maui Tomorrow and the Kahului Harbor Coalition had argued that Act 2, passed in special session in October 2007, is unconstitutional because it was targeted to benefit just one entity, the Superferry. Act 2 allowed the Superferry to provide Honolulu-to-Kahului service while the environmental study was done.

The law exempted the Superferry from state laws mandating that if an environmental impact statement is required for a project, it must be completed before starting operations.

Irene Bowie, executive director of Maui Tomorrow, said she believes that Superferry officials should stop service until they comply with environmental reporting requirements.

Bowie said preserving the integrity of environmental laws is more important than any business entity.

“;The ruling today benefits all of Hawaii,”; she said.

Sierra Club officials previously said if the ruling was in their favor, the Superferry would have to cease operations until the environmental assessment was completed, a process that could take months.

In yesterday's decision the court did not buy the state's argument that the law was drafted for large-capacity interisland ferries in general.

Justices said Act 2 “;was conceived, drafted, and enacted to accomplish the specific purpose of allowing the Superferry, and the Superferry alone, to operate without satisfying the requirements”; of Hawaii's environmental laws.

Lucienne de Naie, vice chairwoman of the Hawaii chapter of the Sierra Club, said the Supreme Court's decision vindicates those who sought to protect the environmental procedures in place to review projects such as the Superferry.

“;I'm happy the state Supreme Court stepped in,”; she said. “;I hope this sends a message.”;

Maui Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza issued findings on Nov. 9, 2007, granting an injunction against the Superferry until it completed an environmental assessment.

The court dissolved the injunction on Nov. 14, 2007, after the state Legislature held a special session to pass Act 2.

Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares, who has been critical about the handling of environmental issues by the Superferry, said the court ruling was not a surprise.

“;Early compliance would have benefited both the environment and today's small businesses that utilize the Superferry,”; Tavares said yesterday.

 

WHERE TO CALL

The Hawaii Superferry said it is in the process of calling all customers with near-term bookings.

Customers may also call 853-4007 or (877) 443-3779.