Ferry tale


POSTED: Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Hawaii Superferry is gone, probably for good, but the political, legal, financial and ethical stink it leaves behind is going to cling to the islands for a long time. You might as well get used to it, and if you're still trying to figure out who's responsible, this book might help.




”;The Superferry Chronicles: Hawaii's Uprising Against Militarism, Commercialism and the Desecration of the Earth”;

By Koohan Paik and Jerry Mander


(Koa Books)


320 pages, $20




The Hawaii Supreme Court effectively shut the company down last month, ruling that the special law that it was operating under was unconstitutional. With that, the company announced that it was closing down operations, laying off workers and looking for a new home for its $350 million first ship. “;We're taking our beach ball and looking for a new ocean to toss it in,”; Adm. Thomas Fargo, the company's chief executive office, practically told Hawaii after the ruling came out.

“;Good riddance,”; some people said.

“;See, anti-business,”; the old guard said.

“;Dang, I wish I'd ridden it at least once before it left,”; the rest of us whispered, but not loud enough to be heard.

The court's ruling that the state cannot set up a special law to accommodate one company, no matter how much money it was bringing into the state, especially if it was done by circumventing our treasured environmental laws, was the right thing and a long time in the making.

Only most of us didn't see it coming. Were we silent conspirators, blinded by our own desire for a cheap interisland travel alternative, or did we have the wool pulled over our eyes by a high-flying group of investors who found friends in high places at the Legislature and Governor's Office?

Clearly, the authors of this book think it's the latter.

“;We don't hate ferries. Actually, we quite love ferries,”; the authors say near the end of this collection of pieces that gives an almost fair but hardly balanced view of the ferry fiasco. “;We even had a positive reaction to the idea when we first heard about the Superferry. But then, we learned the rest of the story.”;

The story they tell is one of greed, manipulation, militarization, political ambition, absentee owners, a near riot and a cast of characters that includes Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, a former secretary of the Navy, a governor in bed with big business, as well as some local “;heroes”; who never stopped believing that Hawaii and its courts would ultimately do the right thing and make the ferry operations comply with all state laws, not just the one written especially for its benefit.

The book gives a lot of space to those little people who one way or another helped expose the ferry, and perhaps its ulterior motive of using Hawaii waters as a testing ground for a new type of military transport ship. It's a little less fair to the thousands of people who genuinely wanted to see the ferry company succeed out of the belief that the Hawaii archipelago would be well served with a new kind of transportation. You'll have to wade through a lot of stuff here to reach your own conclusions about who is really to blame.

Remember the movie “;Who Killed the Electric Car?”; which was making the rounds a few years ago? The film told the story of a highly successful electric car manufactured by General Motors, which suddenly and inexplicably pulled the product from the market. In the film, the directors leave the question of blame open-ended: big oil, the car companies, state bureaucrats, even consumers who did not buy enough of the cars end up sharing responsibility.

It's a lot like that here. Sure, the Superferry company cut corners and is now paying a big price. Sure, the Legislature and the governor gave it their best (and, as it turns out, illegal) shot at salvaging the project. Sure, all of us who sat idly by and only prayed that it would all work out peacefully deserve some of the blame, too.

If there are any real heroes here, it's the justices of the state Supreme Court. As they've done on a handful of memorable occasions before, the justices swiftly and quickly stood up for the law, and that means all of us, without any taint of the greed and politics that made this such an otherwise sordid tale.

This story's probably over, but if it turns out that there's a new chapter, or a new Superferry, somewhere in Hawaii's future, we could all do worse than spending a little time with the book to figure out whose side we're going to be on the next time we have to make a choice.