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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Potential loss of Superferry irks many

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Marijane Holmes Carlos used to travel to the Neighbor Islands at least a couple of times a year. Not anymore.

"Now we don't even go see family," said Carlos, a Honolulu resident. "By the time you pay for the overpriced air and a rental car, you may as well go to Vegas!"

Carlos and her husband are among those who are eagerly awaiting the lower fares and drive-on convenience of the Hawai'i Superferry. They are also among those who were equally disappointed to hear that its future might be threatened by the possibility of a lengthy environmental review process.

They were among the 80 percent of the 300 or so Hawai'i residents who contacted The Honolulu Advertiser on Sunday and yesterday in an informal survey after news of a growing campaign to demand that an environmental impact statement be conducted to examine potential problems with the high-speed ferry.

Some of the same environmental groups that helped block the expansion of Kahului Airport are pushing for the EIS and threatening to sue if it doesn't happen. The Kaua'i County Council, Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa and some state lawmakers also have formally asked for the full environmental review.

But Hawai'i Superferry CEO John Garibaldi said requiring an EIS, which at the minimum would take nine months to complete, would kill the project.

June 30 is the deadline by which all government approvals must be in place, allowing a

$162 million order for two vessels to go through and assuring investors the project has the green light, Garibaldi said.

Several people expressed dismay at the possibility the Superferry could be lost:

• "I'm absolutely disgusted that a ragtag group of so-called 'environmentalists' would prevent this state from benefiting from what Washington state and Canada already have. I'm outraged and I'm going to call my legislators!" said Warren Heaviside, a Big Island Realtor.

• "I think it's a crying shame that the plans for the Superferry are this far along and now they're saying they want an impact statement. Where were they a year ago when this came up?" said Charles Gerrior of Makakilo.

• "When is Hawai'i going to stop living in the stone age and move forward?" asked Ellie George of 'Ewa Beach. "This would help keep the 'ohanas together. I thought that is what Hawai'i was all about."

• Jon Anderson of Diamond Head said: "Is it just me, or does 'Hawai'i' mean 'throw money down a hole' in some language? There is a laundry list of programs, both private and public, that have been derailed only after millions of dollars have been spent. Bus rapid transit, the Natatorium, the Hokuli'a development on the Big Island, the list goes on and on and on. I'm sure if we wait long enough, on the eve of the next O'ahu rapid-transit plan someone will step forward to derail that, too, after wasting millions more."

Those who support the environmental review said it's the law, and what's fair is fair. There shouldn't be any exemptions for projects to meet the criteria, even if there are financing deadlines.

"It would set a terrible precedent to allow an illegal exemption," said Maui attorney Isaac Hall. "State officials cannot aid Superferry executives in their attempts to circumvent the public environmental review to which all of Hawai'i's citizens are entitled."

Luciano Minerbi, professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Hawai'i, agreed, saying environmental review is required for all significant projects like this "obvious big one."

"Why do you ask why an EIS should be done? Why don't you ask why an EIS was not done well before all the other financial and building commitments? How can you have federal financing without a full disclosure of impacts and mitigating measures? H-3 again?" Minerbi said.

Many people said they suspect there's more at work than those concerned about the environment.

Bob Gould of Kane'ohe said he thinks the calls for an EIS are largely an example of entrenched interests — shipping companies, barge companies, airlines, car rental agencies, taxi companies — trying to protect their turf.

"In this case, the environmentalists are the dupes of the air carriers, tug companies and car-rental companies," added Geoff Curran of Kane'ohe.

Reach Timothy Hurley at (808) 244-4880 or thurley@honoluluadvertiser.com.