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John Fischer

Is This the End for the Hawaii Superferry?

By March 17, 2009

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Yesterday the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that hat a state law passed by a special session of the Hawaii legislature that allowed the Hawaii Superferry to operate without a complete environmental impact statement is unconstitutional. You can read the complete Supreme Court decision in today's Honolulu Advertiser.

Following the court's decision, Hawaii Superferry announced that they would cease operation after this Thursday. Again, you can read the full story in today's Honolulu Advertiser.

This is the latest and, perhaps, the final blow to establishing a permanent and regularly scheduled alternative transportation between O'ahu and the neighbor islands. At one point last year, Hawaii Superferry was operating between O'ahu and both Kaua'i and Maui. Demonstrations on Kaua'i quickly put an end to that service. Service to Maui has continued to operate under the law passed by the State legislature, albeit with several significant breaks in service for various reasons. Service to the Big Island was scheduled to begin this year, but delayed until 2010 due to the poor economy.

The suit which reached Hawaii's Supreme Court was brought by the Sierra Club, Maui Tomorrow and the Kahului Harbor Coalition. These groups have broadly been characterized as environmental groups.

All public opinion polls conducted on the Superferry issue have shown overwhelming support for the need for this alternative means of inter-island transportation. In addition to allowing local families an alternative means of visiting friends and relatives on other islands, the Superferry was a viable alternative for island visitors and, more importantly, an alternative means for local businesses, particularly farmers, to get their products from Maui to O'ahu.

It's too easy to say that this is just another sign of Hawaii's poor climate for new business ventures, but that certainly is the case. It's also another sign of how relatively small minorities seem to be able to prevail or, at least, hold hostage the majority.

I certainly am a strong supporter of preserving Hawaii's delicate ecology. I am also strongly interested in preserving Hawaii's marine environment and its unique marine life. What continues to baffle me is that in over a year of operation, the Hawaii Superferry has not shown that it is any more a threat to either the environment or marine life than the numerous other business that operate in the waters of Hawaii including tour boats, commercial shipping and barges, military vessels and cruise ships. In fact, the Hawaii Superferry has been under such scrutiny, that its safety record can only be called impressive.

Then, what is the problem? As someone who spends considerable time in Hawaii each year and who visits all of the islands, I think that the main issue here has little to do with the environmental groups that were the plaintiffs in the suit. I think it has everything to do with a basic dislike and distrust on the part of the neighbor islands towards anything O'ahu.

The Superferry enjoyed overwhelming support among Oahu residents. It's support was less on Kaua'i and Maui. Interestingly, however, it seems that Big Island support was strong. Unfortunately, they may never have a chance to benefit from the Superferry.

Residents of Kaua'i and Maui County in particular have always felt that Oahu makes all the decisions. That is an unavoidable by-product of the fact that the vast majority of the state's population and consequently legislators reside on O'ahu. It's not a dislike and distrust that began with the Superferry. It's been around as long as I have visited Hawaii and certainly for many, many years before. While for many years it seemed that non-O'ahu residents just took a grin and bear it attitude, they have discovered that in the courts they have a much better chance of being heard than in the State legislature.

So, for whatever the real reasons may be, the days of the Hawaii Superferry appear numbered. It's hard to imagine that the owners will be prepared to wait another year or two to resume service while waiting for a new environmental impact study. Don't be surprised if inter-island airfares start inching upwards as well as the cost of shipping goods between islands.

The groups who brought the lawsuit are celebrating today. There is no joy for the much larger group of Superferry employees and other businesses and individuals which relied on the Hawaii Superferry.
March 17, 2009 at 8:59 am
(1) Arnie says:

The Superferry uses more fuel per passenger than a Hawaiian Airlines jet. It may well have struck whales. The large vessel would feel a slight bump and the marine mammal would drift to sea, never to be seen again. And this catamaran is a prototype combat vessel bringing billions to its manufacturer in Defense Department contracts. There is a lot more to this story than business climate, transporting folks and vegies between islands, and convenience. An excellent investigative report — The Superferry Chronicles — is at bookstores nationwide.

March 17, 2009 at 4:47 pm
(2) Joe says:

The airlines are licking their chops at this very moment. Get ready to pay…

The polls here on the big island were overwhelmingly in favor of the Ferry. Oh well.

March 17, 2009 at 6:44 pm
(3) Bowzo says:

I think you really hit the nail on the head with your assestment of the situation regarding the Superferry. The invasive species that they claim would harm their island is the people from Oahu. Most of the people using it is local. But you know, if that is how they feel, then fine. I guess that’s 2 islands I don’t have to go to. Darn, and I just spent over $700 this past weekend on Maui playing golf. At least our club can still go to the Big Island and play there.

March 18, 2009 at 1:58 am
(4) C says:

The Superferry is a great idea (and I am a Maui resident, and protecting Maui’s natural beauty is important to me, since it impacts MY job). It is unfortunate to see it go, and I feel for the people who are losing their jobs as a result, times are tough here, and everyone needs to keep their job.

It took a lot of time and money to build the vessel that they use. This was never a “we gotta act on this right now or lose the possibility” situation. The governor treated it this way (a time crunch would have been a more legit reason for waiving the EIS), and in doing so chose to sidestep the law. (It makes you wonder why sidestepping the EIS process was so important….)

The governor fouled the whole process by waiving the legally required EIS. Had they done the EIS at the same time they came up with the idea, and started this whole process…..the Superferry would be operating.

If you want to lay blame on someone, it isn’t the enviro groups, rather it is the governor for sidestepping the law. The laws are there, and (right or wrong) very clear. If the law isn’t good, change the law, don’t just sidestep it.

The governor acted stupidly, and the state supreme court ruled properly, unfortunately.

March 18, 2009 at 10:03 pm
(5) Kip Goodwin says:

Governor Lingle invested $50 million, to date, in Superferry. Costs were understated and benefits overstated right from the start. Why did Lingle let Superferry skate around Hawaii environmental laws? Because it could never pass scrutiny. At taxpayer expense, State inspectors siezed hundreds of pounds of already depleted near shore aquatic resources from Maui bound for Oahu, crowded and already stripped of its resources, on Superferry. Locals and visitors alike who cherish the slowed down rural Aloha lifestyle of the outer islands are celebrating the Hawaii Supreme Court’s unanimous upholding of the Rule of Law.

March 20, 2009 at 1:00 am
(6) BJ Pimentel says:

I enjoyed the superferry. It enabled me to take as many bags as I wanted on my own car to see ohana and take my own food from my own freezer to share with my elderly family that I would not be able to do on the airlines as they charge too much per bag. We on Maui have many many animals and pest that do not belong here because in the circle of life there are no natural predators that will keep them in check meaning, the jacksons, different ants, iguana, frogs. Invasive plants were not brought by the Superferry and we have problems with them. Pest and invasive plants were brought here not by the superferry but by the other boats and airlines that did not have to do an enviromental study and if the airlines had one done they would not have passed. I was on last week where we saw many whales and did not have any problems. There were never traffic problems when we got off the ferry in Maui or Oahu. The workers were full of Aloha too.
I hope they will return.

June 23, 2009 at 1:35 pm
(7) jimmy says:

the super ferry is an excellent idea that government ruined, imagine that. i could afford to go to the other islands on the ferry. i can’t afford to do it regularly now and i never will thanks to a bunch loud mouth selfish idiots.those so-called enviros are a joke,why don’t they go back to the main.i was excited about the ferry coming to my island. that will never happen now. thank god i live on BIG so i don’t have as many of them to deal with…

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