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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 4, 2010

Hawaii's tab for Superferry rises another $218,000, to tow barge

By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The $10 million barge, seen here being used in 2008 to load the ferry at Kahului, is getting dam-aged by surges there, and will be towed to Honolulu.


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Hawai'i taxpayers aren't done yet paying for the failed Superferry project.

The state Department of Transportation's Harbors Division has awarded a $218,000 contract to Healy Tibbitts Builders Inc. to tow a state-owned barge, which had been used to load vehicles on and off the now-defunct interisland ferry, from Maui's Kahului Harbor to Honolulu.

Deputy director of harbors Michael Formby said the $10 million barge Manaiakalani is being moved primarily so it can be better protected from the sea conditions at the Kahului port, where it is battered by storm surges.

In addition, Hawaii Superferry stopped paying insurance on the barge after filing for bankruptcy in May, he said.

"Our primary concern was to make sure that it is stored in a protected harbor, and we have extra berthing space here (at Honolulu Harbor)," Formby said.

Irene Bowie, executive director of the Maui Tomorrow Foundation, said members of her organization will be happy to see the barge leave. Maui Tomorrow was one of the groups that sued the state in 2005 for failing to do an environmental impact statement on Hawaii Superferry and the $40 million in ferry-related improvements at four state harbors.

Superferry shut down last March after the state Supreme Court ruled the company couldn't operate without the environmental review.

Had an EIS been required, the ferry owners might have been required to build on-board loading ramps and likely would have learned of surge problems within the state's north-facing commercial harbors, Bowie said.

"All of this goes toward the Superferry fiasco. We'll be glad to have the last remnants leave Kahului," she said.

The state already has spent nearly $3 million on repairs and improvements to the Kahului barge and mooring system. Healy Tibbitts, which designed and built the barge, was paid $414,000 last year for structural repairs.

Formby said the marine construction firm was the only company to submit a bid for the towing contract. The original bid was more than twice the current contract price, but the DOT was able to negotiate it down, he said.

The barge is structurally sound, Formby said, but Healy Tibbitts must take a number of steps to prepare the vessel for its voyage, including hooking up a "bridle chain" to which a tow line will be attached, and securing any loose equipment.

The company has been given until April 8 to finish the job.

The barge relocation was in the works long before last weekend's tsunami scare, Formby said. There were concerns that potential surge predictions of six feet or more would have damaged the vessel and other harbor facilities.

There are no potential buyers on the horizon for the Maui barge or for a second one docked in Honolulu that was supposed to have been used at Kawaihae Harbor. Mention has been made of possibly using them as work barges or converting one or both to a floating drydock, according to Formby.

Meanwhile, there continues to be interest among some government officials in re-establishing interisland ferry service, albeit on a much smaller scale.

"We know from the Superferry experience that would require at least an environmental assessment and possibly a full-on environmental impact statement," Formby said.

Bowie said Maui Tomorrow "long ago asked for a final tab" of taxpayer money spent in connection with the Superferry project but has never received a complete answer from state officials.

"I think it's ironic that Gov. (Linda) Lingle wants to look so closely at the EIS for O'ahu's rail system, but her office allowed the Superferry to go through all along without one," she said.