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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hawaii Senate holds off on ferry session

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Staff Writer

State Senate Democrats yesterday met privately in caucus at the state Capitol to discuss a possible special session on the Hawaii Superferry.

But like their state House counterparts did on Tuesday, the senators agreed to wait until after a Maui judge rules on whether the new interisland ferry can resume service soon.

Senators said afterward there are likely enough votes to help the Superferry, but it would depend on the details of the legislation.

Several senators also want to hear what environmental and other concessions or compromises Hawaii Superferry officials are prepared to offer if a special session is called, and some want to hear some contrition from the company and the Lingle administration for rejecting the Senate's offer last session to allow the ferry to launch while the state conducted an environmental impact statement of ferry-related improvements at four harbors.

In an ongoing court hearing, now in its third week, Hawaii Superferry and the state Department of Transportation are trying to persuade Maui Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza that an environmental assessment can be done while the ferry service operates.

"What happened here in this case is that they gambled and lost," said state Sen. Shan Tsutsui, D-4th (Kahului).

State Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser, D-7th (Kaua'i, Ni'ihau), said the Transportation Department and Gov. Linda Lingle are still defending the agency's decision to exempt the ferry projects from environmental review laws, even though the state Supreme Court ruled the exemption was improper and ordered a review.

"I think it's long overdue for the governor, the Superferry and the Department of Transportation to acknowledge that they made some serious errors in judgment," Hooser said.

Meanwhile, attorneys for Kaua'i environmentalists challenging the Superferry say they plan to drop their remaining claims in Circuit Court and appeal to the state Supreme Court.

A Kaua'i judge last week rejected their arguments that an environmental assessment must be conducted before the ferry resumes service to Nawiliwili Harbor, finding the complaint was not filed in a timely manner.

But Circuit Judge Randal Valenciano allowed claims that the ferry service is a public nuisance and a violation of the state constitution to move forward.

A hearing is scheduled for today, and Daniel Hempey, an attorney for the environmentalists, said the remaining claims will be withdrawn and a Supreme Court appeal filed on the question of timing.

Superferry last night said in a statement: "We are pleased to have agreement on the dismissal of any remaining claims against Hawaii Superferry's Kaua'i operations after Judge Valenciano dismissed any environmental claims last week. Hawaii Superferry does not plan on resuming service to Kaua'i until the hearings on Maui have concluded and a decision has been rendered. As we stated last week, the long-term perspective of the company is that a temporary delay serves the community best."

In Honolulu, Big Island attorney Lanny Sinkin has filed a new temporary restraining order in federal court against the Coast Guard's federal security zone at Nawiliwili Harbor.

Sinkin had dropped his request after Hawaii Superferry postponed resumption of service to Kaua'i, but he refiled it yesterday after worrying the company might be taking reservations for Kaua'i voyages.

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com.