Moored in debate
By Gov. Linda Lingle
I believe a special session of the Hawai'i state Legislature to discuss the Superferry is clearly in the best interest of the people of the state of Hawai'i. Many people are hoping for another transportation alternative to visit friends and family on other islands. Farmers and smallbusiness owners want a better way to move products to new markets. Sports teams would like an option to compete around the state. Those in the visitor industry envision an added attraction for tourists. Civil defense officials could utilize the ferry for relief in an emergency.
Superferry's 308 employees are worried about their jobs — 249 already have been furloughed. Even people outside of Hawai'i — around the world, in fact — are watching to see how the situation is resolved.
This is precisely why a special session of the Legislature is needed. Resolving the Hawaii Superferry situation is of paramount importance to the future of Hawai'i. A special session is not about one vessel or one company; it's about the future economic health of our state and the survival of an important transportation option.
A special session is critical to building a better, stronger Hawai'i — by diversifying interisland transportation, uniting our people, supporting local businesses, preparing for emergencies, caring for our natural resources and demonstrating that Hawai'i's political leaders can reach fair and wise decisions.
A special session of the Legislature is an important part of our democracy, a clear example of the checks and balances that make our form of representative government the greatest, and most effective, in the world.
No branch — executive, legislative or judicial — has absolute authority or the last word over the others. Governing is a dynamic and collaborative process involving all three branches, which ultimately results in the best decisions for the people.
In the case of the Hawaii Superferry, the rulings of the Supreme Court and a judge on Maui acted as a check on the executive and legislative branches. A special session of the Legislature is an appropriate and necessary balance to the courts' interpretation of the law. Resolving this type of emergent situation in a timely way is precisely why the tool of a special session is available.
Support for a special session is incredibly strong, both from members of the state Legislature and the public. And the public favors an action that would allow the Superferry to continue operations while an environmental review is conducted.
It is positive for Hawai'i that support for a special session has been bipartisan, and I appreciate the cooperative approach shown by leaders of the Senate and House. By crossing party lines and setting politics aside, my administration and the legislators are highlighting how vital the Superferry service is to Hawai'i's future.
In a democracy, the will of the people is paramount, and public opinion polls show that residents overwhelmingly favor saving the Superferry service and a special session.
According to a recent poll, 62 percent of residents statewide support a special session to allow the Superferry service to operate. More than 74 percent feel the Superferry should be held to the same regulations as other commercial ships, and almost 66 percent said the Superferry has been treated unfairly because a different standard has been applied.
ENVIRONMENT A PRIORITY
Concurrently, concern for the environment and the quality of life in our islands is always a top priority for me and my administration. I would absolutely not support an operation if I believed it could irreparably damage our precious and fragile natural resources.
Superferry officials are committed to environmental stewardship, and the brand new vessel is state-of-the-art. There is a stringent screening procedure for vehicles and passengers to prevent transport of invasive species, and a Department of Agriculture certificate is required for any plants moving between islands. According to Carol Okada, the department's plant quarantine branch manager who testified before the Maui judge, unlike other modes of transportation between the Islands, such as airplanes or cargo ships, the ferry has company screeners to look out for pests and to ensure agricultural products have been inspected.
The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary helped develop a whale avoidance policy for the Superferry. Mark Fraker, a whale expert from British Columbia, testified in the Maui courtroom that the impact by the ferry on whales would be "negligible." He told the court that the ferry's plan to have dedicated whale observers and the vessel's maneuverability and noise would help the vessel avoid collisions.
While I respect the positions of those who oppose the Superferry, the vast majority of state government and state residents support a special session to allow the Superferry service to operate.
It is clear that most legislators and citizens are not interested in bickering and blame, but rather in cooperation, collaboration and solutions. Finding an acceptable resolution isn't just about letting the Superferry set sail; it's about charting a positive course for Hawai'i's future.
'A special legislative session is not about one vessel or one company; it's about the future economic health of our state ... '
Gov. Linda Lingle wrote this commentary for The Honolulu Advertiser.