Superferry protesters to rally in port
A mob of protesters plan to snarl traffic, clog Nawiliwili harbor and otherwise offer a less than welcome greeting to Hawai'i Superferry operators and passengers scheduled to arrive from O'ahu at 6 p.m. today, Hui-R supporters said yesterday.
Sailing in the face of a Hawai'i Supreme Court ruling Thursday, the controversial inter-island vessel bumped its launch date up two days and dropped fare prices to $5 one-way through Sept. 5.
The court decision backed the cries of concerned environmental advocates, Kaua'i state legislators and county council members who have repeatedly called for an environmental impact statement prior to the start of service.
The ruling says the state Department of Transportation wrongfully exempted Hawai'i Superferry from a study on its potential to cause traffic jams, kill humpback whales, spread invasive species or increase homeless and drug problems on neighbor islands.
Department of Transportation Director Barry Fukunaga has said the Hawai'i Superferry will be allowed to commence operations "until and unless" the court specifically says otherwise.
"I'm appalled at the arrogance of Hawai'i Superferry and the Department of Transportation," said state Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua'i. "I'm disappointed that Gov. (Linda) Lingle and the Department of Transportation rather than recognize and acknowledge that they made a mistake and seek a collaborative way to resolve the issue — rather than taking a leadership role — chose again to ignore it and continue to ram the process through, which is what caused the problem in the first place."
The law states the necessity of an environmental impact statement was triggered when the Superferry requested $40 million in public funds for harbor improvements that have a potential to change "business as usual," Hooser said.
Hawai'i Superferry and the Department of Transportation rejected a Senate-sponsored compromise bill, he added, where the state would have paid for the environmental impact statement.
"It didn't have to be this way," Hooser said. "It shows a real lack of respect of the department and Hawai'i Superferry to try to accelerate the calendar rather than talk to the court Monday. If they played by the rules two years ago, we wouldn't be here today."
Superferry officials have said the legal issue had no role in the decision to start service sooner, despite environmental groups' intent to file for an injunction Monday in Maui Circuit Court to stop the 350-foot Alakai catamaran from operating between O'ahu, Kaua'i and Maui.
Superferry operators continue to point to the company's independent studies and precautions put in place to protect the environment — such as hiring lookouts to watch for whales, slowing down and altering routes during peak whale season, providing boot scrubbers at ports and metering vehicles into the local traffic flow.
Kaua'i resident Les Gale said he hopes to join local residents who plan to meet at 3 p.m. today at Kalapaki Park to protest the Alakai when it arrives in Nawiliwili Harbor.
"What amazes me is they're just kind of flaunting what the Supreme Court said," Gale said. "I know there's a lot of money, power and politics behind the Superferry, but I think the people are getting fed up."
Hui-R, a coalition of community members united against the Superferry, sponsored a meeting Aug. 18 to organize plans for the protest and calls for civil disobedience, including traffic impediments and blocking the harbor with surfers, boaters and kayakers.
Hooser said he applauds the community's engagement in the issue.
"If it weren't for their involvement, there would perhaps be no Supreme Court decision," he said.
A second inter-island vessel is being built in Alabama to serve the Big Island starting in 2009. Together, the two ships cost $190 million.