Hawaii Superferry meetings begin tomorrow
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
By Derrick DePledge
Environmentalists on Kaua'i concerned about Hawaii Superferry said the reception state lawmakers get at an informational briefing tomorrow will depend on whether they are genuinely asking for guidance.
The state Senate has scheduled briefings on Kaua'i, Maui and the Big Island to hear public comment on draft legislation that would allow Superferry to resume service while an environmental review is conducted. The briefings are in advance of a potential special session that could start Wednesday.
Some lawmakers have wondered how the public might respond, after Gov. Linda Lingle was heckled and booed during a visit to Kaua'i last month to discuss a new federal security zone at Nawiliwili Harbor to protect the Superferry from protesters.
Several environmentalists and activists on Kaua'i said it would depend on whether lawmakers plan to listen to them or tell them that much of the draft has already been decided.
"Legislative leaders originally promised to rush over to Kaua'i and Maui to ask us what we want. And if they come asking, we might have a chance to tell them that without identifying the environmental, cultural, social and economic impacts you can't mitigate anything," activist and freelance writer Andy Parx wrote in an article Thursday distributed via e-mail. "But if this is a 'done deal' — an 'informational briefing' — again telling us what they're going to do, that kind of lack of respect and aloha could make the Lingle visit look like a tea party."
The main purpose of the draft — allowing Superferry to resume service while the state conducts a full environmental impact statement — is unlikely to change before a special session. But lawmakers said they are open to hearing suggestions on operating conditions that the Lingle administration should impose on the ferry to protect the environment and changes to the composition of an oversight task force that would monitor ferry service and give monthly reports to the Legislature.
State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, D-21st (Nanakuli, Makaha), and state Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser, D-7th (Kaua'i, Ni'ihau), expect to attend the briefing tomorrow on Kaua'i, along with state Sen. Brian Taniguchi, D-10th (Manoa, McCully), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee, who will chair the briefings, and others.
"I will tell them that it's a work in progress," said Hooser, one of a handful of lawmakers who had sought an environmental review for Superferry before it launched service. "We're there to hear what the people have to say and listen to the suggestions. And there are many senators who want to add, or are inclined to add, additional conditions."
The state House has chosen not to formally participate in the briefings, but individual House lawmakers plan to attend. The House appears less inclined than the Senate to add conditions to the draft, preferring that Lingle do so. Lawmakers, if they are not satisfied with what Lingle imposes, could add conditions during the regular session that starts in January.
State Rep. Hermina Morita, D-14th (Hanalei, Anahola, Kapa'a), who had also sought an environmental review of the Superferry before it launched, said some people she has spoken with on Kaua'i will not accept any outcome that allows ferry service to resume before the review is finished. But she believes people will approach the issue from all angles and will be courteous.
"They see this as a problem created by the administration," Morita said. "Definitely, I think, a lot of people are not happy with the Legislature going into special session. I think people are going to question the integrity of government, the balance of power, and the constitutional issues."
JoAnn Yukimura, a Kaua'i County councilwoman, said many on Kaua'i would likely favor conditions proposed by Maui environmentalists Thursday that would restrict ferry speed to protect whales and other marine life, order thorough inspections of vehicles to prevent the spread of invasive species, and take steps to preserve cultural and natural resources. Others, she said, have suggested that the ferry not allow vehicles at all until after the environmental review.
Yukimura, who met with Hanabusa privately yesterday at the state Capitol, said the ferry's supporters have complained that the project is being singled out compared to barges or cruise ships that travel between the islands. But she said the ferry has distinguished itself as a high-speed vessel that allows passengers to use their own vehicles to "roll-on and roll-off" at harbors.
"Those are the things that are going to cause an impact to the islands," she said.
Rich Hoeppner, an activist with People for the Preservation of Kaua'i who has joined a legal challenge to keep the ferry from Nawiliwili Harbor during the review, said Lingle's mistake was coming over after declaring that the ferry would be returning, and warning protesters of arrests and prosecution if they again tried to block the ferry.
"Lingle came over, not to hear what we had to say, but to lay the law down on what we had to do, what we could not do, what the penalties were, what the jail times were, how much money it was going to cost us, and she got booed," Hoeppner said.
Hoeppner predicted lawmakers would get a better reception than the governor. But he said that many of the people he has talked with who have reviewed the draft legislation are upset. He asked what message the Legislature would be sending if it overturns court decisions to help Superferry.
The state Supreme Court ruled in August that an environmental assessment is necessary. A Maui court ruled last week that ferry service could not resume at Kahului Harbor until the review is completed.
"How do you expect some teenager on Kaua'i, when he's told, 'Don't violate the law,' and all of the Legislature has overturned laws to let Superferry do what they want to do without an environmental impact statement? How do you justify telling someone on Kaua'i that they shouldn't (block the ferry) ... because it's against the law?" Hoeppner said.
At the Capitol yesterday, House Democrats met in private caucus to review the latest draft while negotiations between House and Senate attorneys and state Attorney General Mark Bennett continued.
State House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell, D-24th (Manoa), said the Lingle administration is concerned about a provision in the draft requiring the state auditor to investigate the administration's decision-making on Superferry. Russell Pang, a spokesman for Lingle, said the administration would not comment on the nature of their concerns other than to say that talks are continuing.
"We believe that we need to know what decisions were made, how they were made, what were the legal analysis of those decisions, so we can actually then fix the problem and avoid this from ever happening again," Caldwell said. "Because no one is comfortable — 100 percent — with coming in on piecemeal legislation to rescue one business."
Late yesterday, lawmakers posted the latest draft on the Legislature's Web site. While still remaining separate from the state's existing environmental review law, it includes similar language.
Many lawmakers also continue to report that most of the public feedback they are receiving on Superferry is in support of allowing ferry service to resume during the review.
Reach Derrick DePledge at email@example.com.