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Superferry economic fallout begins


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POSTED: Friday, March 20, 2009

Waipahu resident Sarah Visitacion said she does not know what the future will hold for her nursing education, her 2-year-old son and her husband, Jeffrey, who lost his cabin attendant job with the shutdown of the Hawaii Superferry.

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"I might have to go back to work," said Visitacion, who now attends Leeward Community College.

Several Superferry workers expressed sadness at the closing, uncertainty about their job prospects in a recession but also hope that the interisland carrier will again rise to operate in Hawaii waters.

"It's just hit a wave," said Diane Torres, a utility inspector. "We'll come back."

The announcement to shut down operations came Monday, after the Hawaii Supreme Court decided a state law allowing the Superferry to operate while an environmental study was prepared was unconstitutional.

Gov. Linda Lingle wants the Hawaii Supreme Court to reconsider its decision.

Some lawmakers have blamed Lingle for giving bad advice to the Superferry about the environmental requirements necessary to operate in Hawaii waters.

The Maui-Oahu trip yesterday was the Superferry's aloha voyage for many of its 236 employees.

But aloha could mean "goodbye" or "see you later" in the long-term future of the Superferry.

Hawaii Superferry President Tom Fargo said his business has not shut the door on resuming operations in Hawaii, but its short-term future is not good because of the time needed to prepare an environmental impact statement.

"Obviously, this is not even close to our preferred outcome," Fargo said. "We have believed from the start and continue to believe that there is a clear and unmet need for an interisland high-speed ferry system for the state."

The company plans to keep enough employees to maintain its corporate function and assets.

Fargo said even with the work done so far, an environmental impact statement study might take a year or more to complete.

For now the Superferry Alakai plans to look for commercial or military work in or outside of Hawaii.

Several passengers who have businesses said their enterprises and nonprofit groups would suffer without the Superferry.

Love's Bakery carried more than 2 million loaves of bread on the interisland carrier since it began operations in September 2007, and the Superferry donated more than $165,000 in travel to more than 100 groups, the Superferry said.

Construction worker Rex Howell, who was a frequent passenger, said a lot of workers in the building industry relied on the Superferry for commuting to jobs.

Barry Bundy said the absence of the Superferry is going to push back the delivery time for his automobile parts business and raise costs.

"We're considering leaving the islands," Bundy said.

On its final voyage under the operation of the current staff, the Superferry carried 290 passengers and 84 vehicles to Maui and returned with 126 vehicles and 398 passengers to Oahu, including some employees and their families.

Michael Caseria, who worked as an engineer aboard the Superferry, said he wanted to take his wife, Stacy, and daughter and son on the historic voyage. He felt the Superferry helped the islands and should be encouraged to return.

"It's going to benefit Hawaii in the long run," he said.