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.