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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted at 9:19 a.m., Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Speakers on Maui blast Hawaii Superferry EIS

By HARRY EAGAR
The Maui News

WAILUKU The special environmental impact statement for the state harbors and their ferry customers was attacked as unconstitutional and illegal at a public meeting on Maui on Monday, The Maui News reported.

This EIS is being prepared under Act 2, passed in a special session of the Legislature last year to allow the Hawaii Superferry to operate pending completion of an EIS for both harbor improvements and secondary impacts.

Several speakers at an afternoon session at Baldwin High School Auditorium said any EIS should be rolled into the regular EIS for the 2030 Harbors Department master plan, also now under way.

That position would, if pursued, sideline the Hawaii Superferry for up to two years.

Irene Bowie, executive director of the Maui Tomorrow Foundation, was the first speaker to denounce the special EIS. Her group already has challenged the constitutionality of Act 2 in court.

Eleven people spoke at the afternoon session, with 15 more turning out for a relatively quiet evening session. An Oahu meeting Friday was also reported to have been lightly attended, but sessions scheduled for Kauai on Wednesday may generate more heat.

Kauai opponents of the Hawaii Superferry physically blocked the ferry from docking at Nawiliwili Harbor on its second run on Aug. 27 last year. Although the Alakai resumed service to Maui in December after Act 2 was approved, the company has not attempted to renew the Oahu-Kauai run.

The issue is somewhat complicated because the special EIS is for state actions in harbors as they relate to any "large capacity interisland ferry," while many of the objections are to the one ferry company operating or trying to.

The Hawaii Superferry's first vessel, Alakai, began Oahu-Maui service under the dispensation granted by Act 2 on Dec. 13, but canceled voyages for four days at the end of the month because of rough seas, and canceled another two days in mid-January.

It went out of service on Jan. 28 again because of rough conditions in Kahului Harbor, but has been drydocked since because of damage to its rudders and to its hull. It is currently scheduled to resume service on April 22.

Whatever issues there are about reliability of the ferry, the EIS mandated by Act 2 is proceeding. However, the state's harbor plans not only would apply to any "large-capacity ferry," but also are meant to accommodate other businesses, like cruise ships.

While most of the 11 testifiers had bad words about the Superferry, others, like Karen Chun, spoke against all passenger vessels using Kahului Harbor.

Chun, representing Save Kahului Harbor, said, "Maui's freight crisis is critical. We should give priority to freight over passenger ships."

Besides Bowie, Masako Cordray described the special EIS as "a fake EIS." But retired Maui Community College professor Dick Mayer accepted the EIS process, proposing a long list of items that the preparers should address.

The special EIS is not just for Kahului Harbor. It will cover shore-side improvements (many already constructed) at the four harbors on the Hawaii Superferry's route schedule Kahului, Nawiliwili, Honolulu and Kawaihae.

Mayer also said the EIS must address secondary impacts in the oceans between the islands and on the islands where the ferries will call.

There were no novel suggestions for what should be studied. Mayer suggested that most items already had been listed by the county councils of Maui, Hawaii and Kauai, all demanding an EIS before ferry operations began.

Items to be studied include impacts on marine mammals, fisheries, surf spots, traffic on island roads, smuggling between islands, transportation of alien pests, depletion of resources (like opihi, among others), interisland travel of criminals, traditional and cultural Hawaiian practices (like canoe paddling in Kahului Harbor), air quality, social cohesion and displacement of freight operations.

Brad Parsons added the question of fuel consumption, and Mayer demanded an investigation of depleted uranium if the Army uses the ferry to move Stryker vehicles.

Some speakers, like Daniel Kanahele, said the "no action" alternative is the one that should be adopted. The "no action" alternative is a requirement of every EIS.

Mike Cummings announced the formation of a new Maui Surfing Association with 352 members from age 8 to 62 who, he said, hold varying opinions about ferries, but are all agreed that all surf spots are a valuable resource that "validate a quality-of-life issue."

He said economic considerations must not be allowed to trump quality-of-life issues.

Leslie Kuloloio said the EIS preparers, Belt Collins, are "missionary descendants" who treated Hawaiians without respect.

Lesley Matsumoto, vice president of Belt Collins for environmental planning, reviewed some of the measures either required by Act 2 or imposed by Gov. Linda Lingle by executive order to help mitigate impacts of any ferry operations, pending completion of the special EIS. Completion is not expected until May 2009.

Required or imposed measures include a number of operational safeguards and monthly meetings of a Ferry Oversight Task Force to consider practical experience.

There has been little practical experience, since the ferry has been in drydock since the beginning of February.

The Department of Transportation, Matsumoto said, had formed a Rapid Risk Assessment panel of engineers and scientists to examine ferry impacts.

The panel had planned to issue a report this month, but since the ferry hasn't been operating, it will have to wait until it does, sometime after April 22. Matsumoto said the assessment now is planned for May, with a report in June.

With the limited experience, she said, "To date they haven't noted any substantial concerns."

Bowie disagrees. She claimed there already have been three close encounters with humpback whales, encounters made more likely when the Alakai was forced to a southerly route through the Kalohi Channel south of Molokai by heavy seas on the northern route.

A draft of the special harbors EIS is expected to be completed in October, which will open a 45-day public comment period.

For more Maui news, visit The Maui News.