Friday, October 26, 2007

OKs for bill buoy ferry/Gov and court launch blame

State Reps. Michael Magaoay, left, and Pono Chong conferred during yesterday's hearing on the Superferry bailout bill. They were nearly hidden behind the stack of papers related to the proposal.


OKs for bill buoy ferry

Senate changes add environmental steps, while the House mulls the original version

»Gov and court launch blame to and fro STORY SUMMARY »

A bill to keep the Hawaii Superferry in operation despite a court injunction advanced yesterday in the state Legislature.

However, Senate committees amended an agreed-to bill to increase environmental restrictions on the high-speed ferry.

After a 12-hour committee hearing yesterday, the House is ready to vote today on a version of the measure that does not have the environmental restrictions.

Superferry officials were happy with the Senate compromise bill, but the Hawaii Sierra Club was not. The group is one of three that got a court order against the ferry's operation at Kahului Harbor.

Still, Jeff Mikulina, president of the Hawaii Sierra Club, said the proposed changes "are far better than the original draft bill."

The compromise was worked out yesterday afternoon among three Senate committees: Judiciary, Transportation and Environment.

Meanwhile, on Kauai, police have arrested two men for allegedly blocking Superferry passengers from leaving the harbor when the ship docked at Nawiliwili Harbor on Aug. 26.

The men were also charged with disorderly conduct and impersonating a police officer.


Hawaii Superferry officials are backing a compromise bill that increases environmental restrictions on the high-speed ferry but allows it to sail despite a court injunction.

The compromise was worked out yesterday afternoon among three Senate committees: Judiciary, Transportation and Environment.

"From what I heard, it sounds like a very positive development. We reserve final judgment, but everything we heard was very positive," said Tig Krekel, vice chairman of J.F. Lehman & Co., the ferry's main investor.

Meanwhile, two House committees advanced the same bill un-amended yesterday after a marathon 12-hour hearing.

Both House and Senate were to meet today in their respective chambers for preliminary voting.

The minor changes to the Senate bill did not please everyone.

Jeff Mikulina, president of the Hawaii Sierra Club, which was one of the organizations that successfully sued to halt the ferry's run to Maui, said the ship still should not sail until the required environmental assessments are done.

"We don't think it goes far enough, and we just don't agree with the process," Mikulina said.

But he added that the proposed changes "are far better than the original draft bill."

He said that if the bill is amended any more, it should include provisions to slow the ship when it travels through areas with whale populations.

Although the measure, SB 1, passed out of the three committees, most of the senators voted "with reservations," a legislative device that allows lawmakers to approve something while still saying it was not completely to their liking.

One legislator who rejected the compromise was Sen. Russell Kokubun (D, Hilo-Naalehu), who called the entire process with the Superferry "bungled from the beginning."

"The process was not followed, and I am disappointed in how it turned out," Kokubun said.

Also voting no was Sen. J. Kalani English, who said his rural Maui constituents did not want the Superferry without increased environmental safeguards. "My district demands more," said English (D, East Maui-Lanai-Molokai).

But Sen. Ron Menor, who earlier in committee had pushed for the more restrictive safeguards, said the compromise was a good one. "This is fair and reasonable," said Menor (D, Mililani-Waipio).

Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, who had argued for the Senate's four days of public hearings, including three on the neighbor islands, said the resulting legislation should now clear the Senate. "I think we will be OK and we are on our way," Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) said.

In the House, the bill passed out of the Transportation and Finance committees by votes of 11-0 and 14-3, respectively.

Finance Chairman Marcus Oshiro expressed some reservations and urged members to vote their conscience.

"I have additional questions for the departments," said Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho). "We didn't hear from the Department of Land and Natural Resources, we didn't hear from the Office of Environmental Quality Control and we did not hear from the governor."

The amendments to the Senate bill would require the Superferry to apply for a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration incidental-take permit, which requires a filing of a federal plan to discuss how it would handle the accidental striking of a whale.

The new bill also requires a National Marine Fisheries Service observer be on the ferry when traveling through whale waters. The ferry would also have to put up signs forbidding passengers from taking fishing nets or soil and dirt on board.

Passengers would be required to declare all plants and fruits or invasive species.

And the ferry would have to inspect all vehicles prior to boarding.

Star-Bulletin writer B.J. Reyes contributed to this report.

How they voted

Three key Senate committees passed a compromise bill yesterday that would allow the Hawaii Superferry to resume interisland service without first having to complete an environmental study. Here is how members from the Judiciary and Labor, Transportation and International Affairs, and Energy and Environment committees voted:

Judiciary Committee

Five in favor, including four with reservations: Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai), Sen. Brian Taniguchi (D, Moiliili-Manoa), Sen. Clayton Hee (D, Kahuku-Kaneohe), Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kalaeloa-Makakilo) and Sen. Clarence Nishihara (D, Waipahu)

One opposed: Sen. Russell Kokubun (D, Hilo-Naalehu)

Transportation Committee

Four in favor, including two with reservations: Sen. Will Espero (D, Ewa-Ewa Beach-Lower Waipahu), Sen. Lorraine Inouye (D, Hilo-Honokaa), Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kalaeloa-Makakilo) and Sen. Gordon Trimble (R, Downtown-Waikiki)

Three opposed: Sen. Kalani English (D, East Maui-Lanai-Molokai), Sen. Gary Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau) and Sen. Shan Tsutsui (D, Wailuku-Kahului)

Energy Committee

Three in favor: Sen. Ron Menor (D, Mililani-Waipio), Sen. Les Ihara (D, Kahala-Palolo), Sen. Gordon Trimble (R, Downtown-Waikiki)

Two opposed: Sen. Gary Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau) and Sen. Russell Kokubun (D, Hilo-Naalehu)

Source: Associated Press

Gov and court launch blame to and fro

Amid the legislative effort to save the Hawaii Superferry, there is still room for blame-laying, and the hottest debate is between the Governor's Office and the Hawaii Supreme Court.

The latest volley came yesterday from the acting chief of staff for Gov. Linda Lingle, who criticized court administrative director Thomas R. Keller in his laying the blame for a delayed decision in the case on Superferry officials.

Joy Watari, speaking for the Governor's Office, said Keller "seems to miss the big picture."

The debate started with Lingle herself in an uncharacteristic statement Oct. 12, placing much of the blame for the Superferry fiasco on the state's highest court.

Injecting a note of sarcasm, Lingle said, "The Supreme Court, for whatever their reason was, decided to wait over a year and a half to reach a decision and to do it two days before this service was set to begin." She referred to the court's Aug. 23 ruling that the state should have required an environmental assessment of the islands' first big car and passenger service.

Keller, in a news release from the high court on Wednesday, lashed back at Lingle and Superferry officials, saying that to imply the Supreme Court deliberately waited to make its ruling until days before the ferry service was to begin "is wrong and does a disservice to the people of Hawaii by undermining their trust in the justice system."

He blamed the delay on Superferry attorneys' request to postpone oral arguments. Keller said the courts were involved in several other activities while considering the Superferry case, hearing 300 other appeals, 90 original proceedings, 150 applications to review decisions of the intermediate appellate court, and 1,300 motions.

Keller also said Superferry officials' decision to jump-start the service to Maui and Kauai early with $5 fares also reduced the time to deal with the court ruling.

In yesterday's response from the Governor's Office to the high court, Watari said Superferry actions and the brief delays the company might have caused in proceedings "were inconsequential."

"The main point, as Gov. Linda Lingle pointed out earlier this month, is that the Supreme Court sat on this very important case for a year and a half," Watari said. "And when the justices finally did issue their controversial ruling on Aug. 23, there was limited time available for Superferry officials or the state Department of Transportation to respond before the service was scheduled to set sail."

She acknowledged that the court had other cases over the 18 months it took to reach a decision in the Superferry case, but she said it still should have decided the important issue "many, many months ago."

"Did all of those cases have widespread repercussions that might affect our state economy for years to come?" Watari asked. "I think that is truly the big picture, which some people can't see right now in the midst of this contentious debate."

© Honolulu Star-Bulletin --