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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 11:24 a.m., Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Out-of-service Superferry could cost Hawaii $40M

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor

WAILUKU, Maui — With the Hawaii Superferry out of service, the state has not received reimbursements from the company for $40 million in publicly funded improvements at four ports, according to the head of the Department of Transportation.

The state issued a general obligation reimbursable bond to purchase the barges, ramps and other equipment and facilities necessary for the new interisland ferry service, DOT Director Barry Fukunaga testified today in Maui Circuit Court.

Under an operating agreement, the ferry company is to pay the state between $1.8 million to $2 million in the first two to three years of service, and $3 million annually after that, Fukunaga said. Those revenues are to be used to pay back the state's debt for the ferry projects.

Fukunaga said the improvements were done specifically for the Hawaii Superferry and that no one else has plans to use them at the present time.

The DOT director's February 2005 determination that the ferry-related projects at Kahului, Nawiliwili, Honolulu and Kawaihae harbors were "minor" and qualified for an exemption from state environmental review laws triggered a lawsuit that is the subject of the Maui hearing, now in its third week.

The Sierra Club, Maui Tomorrow and the Kahului Harbor Coalition, which filed the complaint, last month won a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling that the state erred in granting the exemption.

Maui Judge Joseph Cardoza has prohibited the DOT from allowing the ferry to use the Kahului port until he can rule on whether the company should be allowed to resume service while the state performs an environmental assessment.

Fukunaga's testimony was meant to show how keeping the ferry from running would harm Hawai'i taxpayers.