Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Lawmakers setting sail on bill for Superferry

Lawmakers setting sail on bill for Superferry

Big Island residents want process, if not Superferry


The state Legislature starts work today on a bill to permit the Hawaii Superferry to operate while an environmental study is conducted.

After a day of closed-door negotiations, Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday signed a proclamation calling the Legislature into session, starting at 9 a.m.

Democratic House and Senate leaders have a bill ready for discussion, but the session is expected to be controversial.

House Speaker Calvin Say said he and Lingle reached a tentative agreement on Saturday and worked with Senate President Colleen Hanabusa to get consensus.

"I know we won't please everyone, and when everyone is not pleased, I know it is a damn good bill," Say said.

The Legislature, during its planned five-day session, is also expected to approve a bill permitting the imposition of extended prison terms. The state and federal supreme courts had ruled against a state law calling for extended sentences for certain offenders.


The fate of Hawaii's only interisland ferry now rests with the state Legislature and Gov. Linda Lingle.

Lingle yesterday called the Legislature into special session to write a law to permit the Hawaii Superferry to sail while an environmental impact statement is completed.

The Superferry started service in August, but the state Supreme Court ruled that the state needed to perform an environmental assessment. Then a state judge blocked the ferry from running to Maui until the assessment was completed. Protests by Kauai residents halted the service to Kauai.

While the Legislature is poised to grant the reprieve, Lingle will be responsible for drawing up conditions in an agreement with Superferry officials to protect the environment.

The ferry's opponents say that is not good enough and the Capitol is expected to be the scene of long public hearings today and tomorrow over the legislation.

"People sometimes expect miracles ... what we have today is a product that I am very proud of after working with the Senate and the administration," said House Speaker Calvin Say (D, St. Louis Heights-Wilheimina Rise-Palolo Valley).

Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai) has been sending out e-mails urging Superferry supporters to show up at the hearings.

"I want to make sure that the outrageous restrictions suggested by environmentalists and professional protesters are not in the bill," Slom said.

The Legislature took up the Superferry issue during its regular session earlier this year, but a Senate proposal to allow the ship to sail while an EIS was performed was rejected by ferry supporters in the House. The court decisions since then mean that the Superferry can continue only if the Legislature passes a new law.

The new proposal calls for stricter regulations on the ship and also requires a panel to make sure the ship is not hurting the environment. Also, the legislative auditor would be required to investigate why the Lingle administration had given the Superferry an exemption from the EIS law.

But as the House and Senate start their negotiations, there is no firm agreement on one bill.

"We did not come to an agreement on a bill. We discussed various versions of the bill," said Senate President Colleen Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua).

The Senate yesterday concluded a series of informational meetings on Kauai, Maui and the Big Island. The Senate, Hanabusa said, is likely to include some of the issues raised by neighbor island opponents in the new bill.

"I think a majority of the senators want to help the Superferry sail again under certain conditions, I don't think you have a majority saying just let the Superferry sail," Hanabusa said.

Already those for and against the 350-foot ship are readying rallies at the Capitol.

Author and University of Hawaii professor Joshua Cooper plans demonstrations to highlight other state problems that the Legislature is not considering.

"We have lots of super issues. We have so many people living on the beach, we have super poverty. I can't believe they would come back to save one company," Cooper said.

The ferry, Cooper says, is a "symbol of overdevelopment and the fact that people are not being heard."

Lingle, however, said in a news release that the issue "is not just about one company or one vessel."

"It is about the long-term economic well-being of our state and about giving our residents, farmers and civil defense agencies options when traveling between the Islands," she said.

Superferry officials are also asking supporters to testify today and tomorrow. They are selling "Superferry" T-shirts for $20 with "all profits to go to the employees" furloughed by the company and their families.

Big Island residents want process, if not Superferry

KAILUA-KONA » State senators heard more of the same yesterday at their third neighbor island Hawaii Superferry meeting in three days as they prepared for a special legislative session.

More than 400 people, including more than 180 who signed up to testify, overwhelmingly favored an environmental study be conducted before the ferry is allowed to sail between the islands.

Whether they wanted the ferry or were against it, not one Big Island resident said they wanted to see state lawmakers give special treatment to a privately owned business.

Some called the special session, which was set to start today in Honolulu, a waste of money, while others demanded that the Superferry follow the same state regulations as every other private enterprise.

Several people claimed Gov. Linda Lingle botched the issue and was leaning on lawmakers to fix her mistake.

While about 70 percent of those gathered seemed to oppose the Superferry on principle, almost all called for lawmakers to follow existing state law and to follow the prescribed process.

In written testimony, Mayor Harry Kim said he believes the Superferry would be beneficial for the lifestyle of the majority of the state.

"I strongly support the Superferry and have a firm belief this is good for Hawaii," he said. "It is realized that if special legislation is passed to allow it to operate while the EA/EIS (environmental assessment/environmental impact statement) is under preparation, the perception will be that of politics overriding the legal process."

County Councilman Angel Pilago noted the Council already has passed resolutions urging a full environmental impact statement be prepared before the ferry be issued all the permits it needs.

Dick Choy said the rules should apply equally and fairly to all businesses, and he would like to see the Superferry start up soon. He said airlines, barge companies and cruise ship lines were not forced to do an EIS.

"If we've going to be fair, let them all abide by the EIS (process)," Choy said. "They are all just as guilty at spreading invasive species."

Ron Self of Kau said the senators were faced with a "monumental decision."

"It's whether or not we want to create highways between our islands. This is something we've never seen before," he said. "We don't have the infrastructure to support Superferry and won't have it by 2009. Let's take our time. Don't make legislation to rush this through. You are wrong on that."

Ron Dela Cruz, a Waimea resident, said he views the catamaran Superferry as just another double-hulled canoe.

"We always talk about local commerce. This is just another option for our local producers," Dela Cruz said. "It gives the little guys more of a chance."

Marie Burns of Kau told the senators she did not want more people visiting her district along the southern shore of the Big Island.