Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Hawaii Superferry study to go to open bid

 •  Big Island mayor endorses Superferry
StoryChat: Comment on this story

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer

The state Department of Transportation has withdrawn a request for an exemption to state procurement law for an environmental assessment for Hawaii Superferry, opening up the process to competitive bidding.

The department had applied for the exemption because it believed Belt Collins, which is doing an environmental impact statement for the state as part of a 2030 master plan for Kahului Harbor in Maui, could do the work quickly. Michael Formby, the department's deputy director for harbors, said he was contacted last week by other contractors interested in performing the review.

The environmental assessment is expected to take eight months and the department wants to move quickly because delays could lead to the Superferry leaving the Islands. Formby said competitive bidding would only add a few more weeks to the selection process. He said bids are due by Tuesday.

"We just thought it was worth the extra time," Formby said.

Last week, Lance Collins, a Wailuku attorney, filed objections opposing the department's request for an exemption on behalf of two men, one from the Big Island and one from Maui.

Collins said the department should honor the competitive bidding process, which was put in place to promote fairness and accountability and to discourage favoritism. "I think, ultimately, this is good for the public," he said of the department's decision to withdraw its request.

The state Supreme Court ruled last month that the state needs to conduct an environmental assessment of the ferry's influence on Kahului Harbor, and the state has chosen to review all four harbors the ferry plans to serve.

Courts on Maui and Kaua'i are considering whether the ferry can resume service while an environmental assessment is done.

At the state Capitol yesterday, lawmakers continued to discuss how to approach a possible special session on Superferry.

Gov. Linda Lingle and state House and Senate leaders, in private talks, have debated whether a special session should be called before or after the Maui and Kaua'i courts rule.

The timing is also being influenced by the fact that state House Speaker Calvin Say, D-20th (St. Louis Heights, Palolo Valley, Wilhelmina Rise), wants to discuss the issue with House Democrats at a caucus Tuesday. Senate Democrats are also expected to meet next week and discuss the issue.

"Any comment on the issue of a special session for the Superferry is premature until I discuss it with the House leadership and majority caucus on Tuesday," Say said in a statement yesterday.

State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, D-21st (Nanakuli, Makaha), said any decision will require the cooperation between the Republican governor, Senate and House leaders, and a majority of rank-and-file Democrats.

"We're still discussing it," she said. "In order for a special session to take place, you need everyone on the same page."

Several people, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there may be enough votes in the Senate and House to help Superferry. But there is a hesitancy among some lawmakers about bypassing the courts and stepping into the controversy when public opinion on Superferry is largely unknown.

Aside from the public-policy implications of passing legislation to save Superferry, lawmakers are also worried about the political impact. A special session may expose some vulnerable lawmakers, particularly in the House, to risk during next year's elections.

State House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell, D-24th (Manoa), at a speech yesterday to the Rotary Club in Waikiki, again said he was personally opposed to a special session but would be open to hearing a compromise if all parties agreed. He said afterward in an interview that, as majority leader, he would also respect the will of House Democrats.

Caldwell said, in hindsight, that the state likely made a mistake by not requiring an environmental assessment for Superferry early in the development process. He also urged Lingle to encourage Superferry executives and environmentalists to settle before the courts rule.

"It's the wrong time for any finger-pointing. We've seen a little bit of this and I think it's going to get worse as we go forward," Caldwell said in his speech. "Let's remember that all state departments, the feds, the Legislature in funding the $40 million in (harbor) improvements, all had a bite of the apple.

"It's time for us now to put our heads together and figure out what to do."

Two other lawmakers, state Sen. Robert Bunda, D-22nd (North Shore, Wahiawa), and state Sen. Will Espero, D-20th ('Ewa Beach, Waipahu), sent a memo to Hanabusa yesterday urging her to either call a special session or back Lingle if she called for a special session.

"We also feel that there is overwhelming public support for a legislative compromise," the senators wrote. "We urge you to initiate open discussion of a special session in the interest of full citizen participation in the process."

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com.