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By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor
By Christie Wilson
WAILUKU, Maui — Even if today's Maui court ruling allows Hawaii Superferry to resume service to Kahului Harbor, the company may still face stormy seas.
The statewide debate over the new interisland ferry service has elevated tensions.
Maui groups worried about the potential environmental impact of the Hawaii Superferry so far have prevailed by relying on the state's legal system. But if Maui Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza sides with the company and the state Department of Transportation, observers say the vessel likely will be met by protests when it reaches Kahului.
"I can tell you the Superferry certainly would not be greeted with open arms. I don't know if people would jump into the harbor and block them," said Karen Chun, a canoe paddler who has long been involved in issues surrounding the state's development of Kahului Harbor.
"There is a level of anger not just directed at the Superferry, but it could be a catalyzing force."
Maui Tomorrow, the Sierra Club and the Kahului Harbor Coalition won a Hawai'i Supreme Court ruling in August requiring the state to conduct an environmental assessment of ferry-related harbor projects. A subsequent restraining order has prevented the vessel from calling at Kahului since Aug. 27.
Following a monthlong hearing, Cardoza is expected to rule today on whether the ban should remain in place during the assessment process.
On Kaua'i, protesters jumped into the harbor to stop the vessel from docking at Nawiliwili on Aug. 27, and heckled Gov. Linda Lingle and other officials at a recent public meeting on the ferry.
The company has decided to suspend Kaua'i service at least until the Maui court ruling. Hawaii Superferry President and CEO John Garibaldi has said the Maui service is the linchpin in the company's business plan, and without it, the ferry likely will be moved out of state.
DIFFERENCE IN PROTESTS
One difference between Hawaii Superferry opponents on Maui and Kaua'i is that the Maui groups leading the charge are long-established organizations that have been involved in a series of land-use, development and water issues. The Kaua'i protests have been somewhat spontaneous and loosely organized affairs, and more difficult to control.
Another difference, according to Chun, is that passions may be less intense on Maui because "we're diluted by a lot of newcomers who don't have the same ties to their cultural roots" as some of the protesters on Kaua'i.
Still, any ferry's return to Maui "won't be as polite as it was last time," said Chun, a member of the Kahului Harbor Coalition.
In the wake of the state Supreme Court ruling, which was announced on a Thursday, the Hawaii Superferry moved up by two days its launch date to Aug. 26, a Sunday. Only a handful of protesters with signs stood outside the ferry exit when the vessel visited Maui that day, and there were no demonstrators when it made its last voyage the following day.
"We knew we were in court, and we thought it was disrespectful and sneaky to move their starting day up. But we knew that come Monday, the judge would issue the temporary restraining order," Chun said.
"Hawaii Superferry really has people feeling like they have been pushed too far. If Superferry is running and it's bringing cars, then there definitely is going to be a lot of outcry. At the very least they'll be met with signs."
Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner Uncle Les Kuloloio said the intensity of the reaction to a court decision will depend on whether the judgment is perceived as "pono," or just and proper.
Kuloloio testified during the court hearing that he was concerned the ferry would allow people to bring their vehicles to Maui and deplete Native Hawaiian subsistence hunting, gathering and fishing grounds.
"For Maui, we like to use the process of law and order. I don't know whether Maui would do what Kaua'i did," he said.
"I'm sure if it goes whatever way it goes and the governor continues to interfere, then yeah. I think she needs to back off," he said. "Local people have a sense of place and a unique sense of emotion about their own island, and for government to step in and use political pressure on everybody on Maui" would be a mistake.
"It's not against the ferry, it's just about putting things into perspective and making things right and trying to build trust back into the system."
Lucienne de Naie of Maui, vice chairwoman of the state chapter of the Sierra Club and a Maui Tomorrow board member, said both groups are committed to using lawful means in any protests they may undertake.
"If we were to have any kind of sign-waving, it would be peaceful, it would have a permit and it would be conducted entirely lawfully," she said.
De Naie was uncertain whether anyone outside the three groups would protest the ferry's arrival. "This is something that has a life of its own," she said.
People might be more willing to accept a decision on the Hawaii Superferry's fate delivered by the courts than one devised by politicians, according to de Naie.
"There may be a spontaneous reaction after people felt they were heard by the Supreme Court and then (Hawaii Superferry) bullies the Legislature and the governor to get its way," she said. "Things may be at a more elevated pitch."
The Sierra Club and Maui Tomorrow likely would pursue an appeal to an adverse ruling by Cardoza, she said. "I don't think it's over yet."
The groups have spent $70,000 on legal fees so far and are raising additional funds for the case. De Naie said the two organizations have been so focused on the legal case that they may have neglected to fully educate the public about why they have pursued the legal action.
Emotions are running high on both sides of the issue, and it's not clear if there will be protests by pro-ferry forces in the event Cardoza keeps the ferry out of service.
De Naie said Sierra Club board members removed their phone numbers from the group's Web site after a stream of harassing calls and death threats that have been reported to police.
It also appears anti-ferry sentiments on Kaua'i have not been defused, according to Andrea Brower of 'Aliomanu, who protested the vessel's visits to Nawiliwili on Aug. 26 and 27. If the company is cleared to operate Maui voyages, it's expected to resume service to Kaua'i.
"It's hard to predict what kind of reaction there will be. It depends on how the Superferry responds to the court decision and if there's a special session in the Legislature. A lot of the emotional response has been based on people feeling betrayed by government," Brower said.
Reach Christie Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.