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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Superferry EIS is right and legal thing to do

By Sens. J. Kalani English, Gary L. Hooser, Russell S. Kokubun and Shan S. Tsutsui

Recently, many Hawai'i residents and community groups have raised questions about whether it is appropriate to require the Hawai'i Superferry to complete an environmental impact statement. As sponsors of SB1276, we believe it is appropriate for the following reasons:

  • Existing law requires an EIS;

  • The state Department of Transportation's Harbors Division improperly granted an exemption to the existing EIS requirement with disregard for the spirit and letter of the law;

  • As legislators, we have a responsibility to our constituents to look into these matters, examine the actions of the executive branch, and ensure that the law is in fact followed;

  • The community response from around the state has been persuasive and overwhelming in support of requiring an EIS. The Maui, Kaua'i and Big Island councils, the mayor of Maui, a majority of Neighbor Island legislators, and thousands of private citizens have requested an EIS; and

  • If the DOT has acted inappropriately by failing to require an EIS when the law clearly says it must do so, then the DOT and the Hawai'i Superferry must deal with the consequences.

    The possibility or threat of a lawsuit will not stop us from doing our duty.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with having an interisland ferry service. In fact, when the idea was first proposed, many of us supported the idea. However, as the project moved forward, we began to have severe reservations about the lack of planning, the potential impacts and the missing "accountability factor."

    The Hawai'i Superferry has a capacity of up to 860 passengers and 280 cars and trucks per trip. This translates into the possibility of 1,720 people and 560 cars entering each harbor area loading and unloading during a relatively short window of time. It further translates to miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic in each direction, in areas immediately adjacent to individual harbor entrances.

    With the Hawai'i Superferry scheduled to begin operations in July, a cursory review of the Neighbor Island harbor facilities shows that negligible improvements have been made to these areas. There are no bathrooms, no ticket booths, no security screening areas and no vehicular "wash down" facilities. We have been told that at Kahului and Nawiliwili there will be a "tent" put up as a passenger holding area, and that portable toilets will be provided. We have also been informed that there will be no parking provided at all, and minimal, if any, improvements made to the adjacent roadway infrastructure.

    On questions of security and invasive species protection, the Hawai'i Superferry has stated that they "will work with local law enforcement and the Department of Agriculture." There is no requirement by the state Department of Transportation to ensure inspections, no inspection facilities and no trained inspectors. There is also no commitment by Superferry to pay the increased costs incurred by our local police and agriculture departments, which are already severely understaffed. The Superferry's developers have stated they will do only "selective screening" of passengers and baggage.

    Recognizing the impact that the Hawai'i Superferry will have on our Neighbor Islands, existing law requires an EIS if certain "triggers" are activated. One of those triggers is the utilization of public funds on public lands to construct improvements that will result in significant new impacts.

    Financing of the Hawai'i Superferry construction is being guaranteed by the federal government, and state taxpayers are funding $40 million in harbor improvements directly tied to Superferry operations. The broad, long-term and significant impacts of the Superferry operations on public lands combined with its extensive reliance of public funding clearly demonstrates that an EIS is legally required. If this were a private business on private land utilizing only private funding, the situation might be different, but it is not.

    Recently, we participated in public hearings on this issue on several islands. The testimony was far-reaching and persuasive. Issues relating to increased traffic, criminal activity and invasive species, as well as the probable negative consequences on natural resources, including humpback whales, were raised.

    The shared opinion was very clear that neither the Superferry developers nor DOT have given this the level of thought and planning it demands.

    At this point, there is no credible, comprehensive evaluation on the extent of the impacts, no documented plan on how to address these issues and no written commitment as to who will pay the price for mitigating the impacts. All of this would be thoroughly examined and discussed in the EIS process.

    Requiring an EIS does not translate into opposing the Superferry operation; it is already the law and it is the responsible thing to do.

    State Sens. J. Kalani English, D-6th (E. Maui, Moloka'i, Lana'i), Gary L. Hooser D-7th District (Kaua'i, Ni'ihau), Russell S. Kokubun D-2nd (Waiakea Uka, Kalapana, Volcano, Kahuku) and Shan S. Tsutsui D-4th (Wailuku, Waihe'e, Kahului, Pa'ia, Lower Pa'ia) wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.