Updated at 8:24 p.m., Thursday, October 25, 2007
Superferry bill passes key Senate vote
By MARK NIESSE
The compromise bill would allow the high-speed Superferry to resume service from O'ahu to Maui and Kaua'i in about two weeks, if it passes votes in the full Senate and House.
These additional restrictions on the Superferry were added as a result of 25 hours of public meetings across the state this week, when senators heard from Neighbor Island residents who overwhelmingly opposed the state's only passenger and vehicle boat.
"I don't think any of us wants to stop the Superferry from operating. That's not the point," said Sen. Kalani English, D-East Maui-Lana'i-Moloka'i, who voted against the bill. "These are all conditions the company said they could do."
Agreement on these conditions is a sign that senators, several of whom resisted the idea of passing a law overriding the courts to let the Superferry sail, are willing to move ahead with the proposal. It should get a vote in the full 25-member Senate on Monday.
Superferry officials also consented to the amendments because they stop short of too-strict rules like speed limits that would have disrupted the service's schedule.
"We're anxious to get back in service," said Tig Krekel, the vice chairman of J.F. Lehman & Co., the project's main investor. "It does sound workable, from what I heard inside the hearing room."
These conditions were taken from some of the 29 suggestions submitted by environmentalists who wanted the Legislature to impose specific requirements on the Superferry rather than leaving enforcement entirely up to Gov. Linda Lingle, a ferry supporter.
Specifically, the new bill would force the Superferry to:
"This is certainly a step in the right direction," said Jeff Mikulina, director of the Hawai'i chapter of the Sierra Club, one of three groups that sued the Superferry. "There could definitely be additional provisions added to the bill."
The new bill keeps in place other measures that would permit the Superferry to operate without having to first complete an environmental study ordered by Hawai'i courts.
Those provisions put the governor in charge of creating and enforcing environmental rules for the Superferry, provide oversight of the governor's actions, prohibit the company from suing the state and open an investigation into why the Superferry was granted an exception to Hawai'i's environmental laws.
"This thing has been bungled from the very beginning. We're in this fiasco right now because wrong decisions were made," said Sen. Russell Kokubun, D-Hilo-Na'alehu, who voted against the bill.
It's unclear whether the House will be willing to adopt the new Senate measures because Democratic leaders have said they didn't want amendments to the bill that could create dissent and jeopardize its chances of passage.
A separate bill moving through the House does not contain the Senate's additional operating conditions.
Both chambers have until the end of the emergency session on Wednesday to approve the Superferry bill.
Without it, the Superferry has threatened to leave Hawai'i because it couldn't afford to wait the months or years it would take for an environmental study to be completed.
The $300 million Superferry project was to start service with a four-story catamaran built to carry up to 866 passengers and 282 vehicles on two daily round trips.
A second giant ferry is being built in Mobile, Ala. It is intended to serve the Big Island in 2009, but its future is now also in doubt.