|•||Lawmakers say support is there for special session|
By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor
By Christie Wilson
WAILUKU, Maui — A state Senate panel yesterday witnessed an eruption of pent-up anger and frustration from people on both sides of the Hawaii Superferry controversy.
A raucous crowd of about 400 attended the second stop of a three-island series of informational meetings on a draft bill that would allow the interisland ferry to operate while the state conducts an environmental study.
With few speakers adhering to a two-minute time limit during the session at Baldwin High School auditorium, only about 100 of the 180 who signed up to testify had been heard by the time the meeting, which began at 3 p.m., was brought to a close at 8 p.m.
The Maui meeting was particularly charged because the draft bill and a special session expected to be convened to pass it would undo a successful 2 1/2-year court challenge filed by Maui residents pushing for an environmental assessment.
Sen. Brian Taniguchi, chairman of the Judiciary and Labor Committee, tried to reassure the audience that lawmakers remain open-minded about the Hawaii Superferry debate.
"What you express today will be evaluated and possibly incorporated into the bill at special session. I can promise you we have not finalized anything and that rumors that this is a done deal are not true," he said.
The draft bill would require the governor to establish operating conditions to mitigate potential environmental impacts caused by the ferry, set up an oversight task force that would report monthly, increase plant and conservation inspection teams, and mandate an audit of the Lingle administration actions in granting an environmental exemption to ferry-related projects at Kahului, Honolulu, Kawaihae and Nawiliwili harbors.
Instead of addressing the bill's conditions, most of the testifiers urged the Senate to respect the legal process and to resist calls to put the ferry back in service.
Maui County Council Chairman Riki Hokama kicked off the testimony by declaring that passage of the bill would spark "a social and political revolution" unlike any seen since the movement that brought Democrats to power in Hawai'i during the 1950s.
"State government is at risk of being seen as out of touch with the recent growth on the Neighbor Islands," he said.
Hokama reminded the 10 senators sitting on the panel that the Maui council unanimously passed a resolution in 2005 opposing start-up of the ferry without an environmental impact statement and an update of the Kahului Harbor master plan. The Kaua'i and Big Island councils passed similar resolutions.
He said the Department of Transportation's decision to exempt ferry-related harbor projects from an assessment excluded the public from participating in the environmental review process. "Passing this short-sighted law would only compound the series of errors by the administration," he said.
Hokama said the draft bill is a "disingenuous" attempt to circumvent court rulings requiring an environmental review.
Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. said the state already has inadequate staff and lacks the resolve to protect Hawaiian burials and historic sites. "How are they going to watch when people from O'ahu come to Ke'anae and take all the 'opihi?"
Referring to the protests on Kaua'i, Richard Michaels of Maui Tomorrow said abandoning the Maui court ruling requiring an environmental assessment before the ferry can return to Maui would leave "taking to the water as the only successful way to stop the Superferry."
"If you do the right thing and with a little patience, we can do it all — environmental protection and the Hawaii Superferry."
BOOS FOR SUPPORTER
As the first person to speak in favor of the proposed bill, Hawaii Superferry employee Elisabeth Gapero took the brunt of abuse from some of the ferry opponents in the crowd and was nearly shouted down. Gapero urged the senators to "protect the people from this hysteria we have today and across the state."
"We are one state, we are one 'ohana ... I have family and friends on O'ahu and they aren't coming here to rape and pillage Maui," she said.
Her husband, Peter Gapero, said he is a Native Hawaiian who is looking forward to being able to travel on the ferry with his vehicle.
The reaction to testimony turned more civil as the meeting wore on, with the biggest applause reserved for attorney Isaac Hall, who won rulings in Hawai'i Supreme Court and in Maui Circuit Court requiring environmental review of the ferry-related harbor projects and ferry operations.
Hall said the state, the ferry company and those seeking an environmental study had four weeks to present their arguments in court on the same issues being considered by lawmakers. After hearing the testimony, the judge in the case ruled ferry operations have the potential for causing irreparable harm to the environment.
He said the lawmakers were "driving down a road with blinders on" because they lacked thorough information on the potential impacts.
"What in the world do you have to support your decision-making?" Hall said.
"You are on notice there will be irreparable harm if the Hawaii Superferry is allowed to operate. ... How dare you even consider passing an act."
Also in the crowd were a dozen state conservation officers from the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The head enforcement officer on Maui, Randy Awo, told the panel he was neither speaking for nor against the ferry.
"My concern is about our ability to properly minister to the impacts that will surely come as a result of the Superferry setting sail," he said.
He said it has been frustrating to feel passionate about his job while witnessing "the impacts that continue to erode away at Hawai'i's very special resources."
"I, as well as my staff, will do whatever is necessary when called upon to do what's right by Maui Nui. We have the desire, you have the means. We ask that you provide us the means to be effective with what we do."
The Senate panel will hold another meeting at 3 p.m. today at Kealakehe High School in Kona.
Reach Christie Wilson at email@example.com