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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ferry has yet to sway some foes

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor


The next informational briefing on the Hawaii Superferry will be held at 6 tonight at Pu'uhale Elementary School, 345 Pu'uhale Road in Kalihi.

On the Web: www.hawaiisuperferry.com

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WAILUKU, Maui The Hawaii Superferry is less than a year from launching its first vessel, but this week's series of public informational briefings on the new interisland service is making it clear that some folks are refusing to accept that fact.

A group of Kaua'i residents went to the State Capitol yesterday with a 6,000-signature petition demanding an environmental impact statement before the Superferry is allowed to go into operation. During last night's Maui briefing, questions continued about the ferry's possible effects on traffic, humpback whales and the spread of invasive species.

The Superferry's first 340-foot-long catamaran is scheduled to begin plying Hawai'i's waters in July, with three-hour crossings from O'ahu to Kahului Harbor on Maui and Nawiliwili Harbor on Kaua'i. A second vessel will enter service in 2009, expanding routes to Kawaihae on the Big Island.

One-way fares range from $42 to $60 per person and $55 to $65 for most cars, although company officials last night said today's fuel prices would add about $10 to each fare.

The state is spending $40 million for barge, ramp and apron systems to be installed at the four Superferry ports.

State and federal authorities determined the ferry was not required to conduct an environmental assessment. Three separate legal challenges arguing for an environmental review have been rejected by state and federal courts, although appeals are expected. Other maritime carriers such as container barges, cargo ships and cruise lines have not been required to do environmental studies.

One of the Superferry's main appeals is that passengers can take along their vehicles. But that is also why the operation has faced far greater public criticism than the other carriers. Critics at statewide public meetings, which were required by state lawmakers, have expressed worry the ferry will bring drug dealers, homeless people and criminals from other islands, as well as invasive plant and animal species that could threaten the state's fragile ecosystems.

Terry O'Halloran, director of business development for the Hawaii Superferry, said the company is going well beyond state Department of Agriculture rules regarding transport of produce, animals and vehicles to address the concerns. Dirty or muddy vehicles will not be allowed on the ferry, he said, and plants and plant parts must pass agricultural inspection. Dogs and cats and most farm animals will be allowed on the vessel, although pigs and certain birds will not.

Motorists must provide a driver's license, registration and proof of auto insurance. Vehicles will be checked while they are lined up for boarding, with more thorough inspections done on a random basis.

As for passengers, check-in will be similar to airport procedures. Identification will be required with boarding passes, although it won't be necessary to remove your rubber slippers. Port facilities will be open for vehicles at least 90 minutes before departure, O'Halloran said, and holding areas at the harbors will be large enough so that cars won't have to line up on public streets.

The Hawaii Superferry can carry more than 850 people and 250 vehicles, but the company projects an average load of 400 passengers and 110 vehicles of assorted sizes.

At least one person at last night's meeting was skeptical that thorough inspections could be completed while keeping to the Superferry's one-hour turnaround time in each port.

"It's not a realistic time frame with the hour turnaround and if there is a full load of vehicles," said Makawao resident Lukas Sheild. He said he is not necessarily opposed to the ferry service, but would prefer something on a smaller scale.

Sheild said a "socio-economic impact statement" is needed along with an environmental review. "There will be more development with materials and labor being more available (via the ferry). What some people call progress, others don't."

Jake Barros said he wasn't satisfied with the cargo inspection and security measures, and wanted more detailed information. "Are they going to be like the airport? I doubt it," he said.

"We could use the ferry, but not now."

O'Halloran said vehicle inspections and document checks would be done while drivers are waiting in line to board.

State Sen. Shan Tsutsui of Wailuku was in the crowd of about 30 people who attended last night's meeting. He told the Advertiser he plans to introduce a bill at the beginning of the next Legislature to require an EIS for the Superferry. The Maui County Council also wants an environmental review, and voted to join an appeal filed by three Maui groups.

The crowd was smaller than expected because of a public hearing being held simultaneously on Maui for a proposed solar telescope on Haleakala. Many opposed to the telescope also oppose the Superferry.

A third round of Hawaii Superferry briefings will be held next spring.

Reach Christie Wilson at cwilson@honoluluadvertiser.com.