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High court ruling prompts Superferry to suspend operations


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POSTED: Monday, March 16, 2009

Hawaii Superferry has decided to halt operations “for the present” in light of a Hawaii Supreme Court decision this morning declaring unconstitutional an exemption that allowed it to operate without an environmental assessment.

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

“Obviously, we are hugely disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision that Act 2 is unconstitutional,” the Superferry said in a statement.

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

Customers may also call (877) 433-3779 or (808) 853-4007. 

The state high 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 who challenged the Superferry in court, said since the legislative exemption is illegal, the Superferry must comply with state environmental laws saying that no operation can take place until an environmental assessment is completed.

Hall said if the Superferry refuses to halt operation, his clients will seek a court injunction to halt its operation in Maui Circuit Court.

 At a news media conference this afternoon, Gov. Linda Lingle said her administration continues to believe that supporting the Superferry’s operation was the right decision.

“We did the right thing, and we’ve been able to provide a great service to the people of Maui and Oahu,” she said.

Lingle said her administration was reviewing the court’s decision and determining its course of action, including whether to resort to a legislative remedy, mediation, and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

She said halting the Superferry’s operation would be “devastating” and that some businesses rely upon the interisland service.

The Sierra Club, Maui Tomorrow and the Kahului Harbor Coalition had argued that Act 2, a law passed by the state Legislature 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 EIS is required for a project, it must be completed before starting operations.

Irene Bowie, executive director of Maui Tomorrow, said she expects Superferry officials will announce today that they will stop service.

“Without the environmental review complete, they should stop service,” she said. “I’m anxiously awaiting their response to the Supreme Court decision.”

Bowie said preserving the integrity of environmental laws was more important that any business entity. “The ruling today benefits all of Hawaii,” she said.

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

In today’s ruling, the court wrote: “Realistically, 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 Chapter 343 of the Hawaii statues. By its own repealing language, once this purpose was accomplished, Act 2 will die before it can accomplish a like purpose for any other entity.”

Lucienne de Naie, the 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.”

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The full ruling is available at http://www.hsblinks.com/57