Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Court clarifies traffic issues for ferry

Court clarifies traffic issues for ferry

A judge on Maui lets stand some traffic controls at the harbor


The Hawaii Superferry will not have to stagger the departure of customers' vehicles to two per minute out of a Maui harbor, under a court decision on the Valley Isle yesterday.

But Maui Circuit Judge Joel August ordered the state to keep in force three hours of traffic control at Kahului Harbor during Superferry departures and arrivals.

August also raised constitutional questions about a state executive order about the Superferry.

Superferry President John Garibaldi said the firm will restart operation to Maui as planned on Dec. 1.


WAILUKU » The Hawaii Superferry will be allowed to offload motor vehicles at a quicker rate under a ruling by a Maui Circuit Court judge.

Superferry President John Garibaldi said he is pleased with Judge Joel August's decision to lift an order restricting traffic flow to two vehicles a minute from the ship when docked at Kahului Harbor.

Garibaldi said the Superferry is moving ahead with plans to relaunch its Oahu-Maui service on Dec. 1.

He said before resuming operations on Kauai, Superferry officials are talking with community leaders on the Garden Isle. "We've started a process of reaching out to the community," Garibaldi said.

But August let some traffic controls stand yesterday.

He ordered state transportation officials to assign three state employees to traffic control at the harbor entrance and exit gates and at the intersection of North Puunene and Kaahumanu avenues 90 minutes before and after the arrival of the Superferry.

State Deputy Attorney General William Wynhoff had argued that recent legislation exempted the Superferry from complying with prior court orders about traffic mitigation measures.

A jury-waived trial before August is scheduled for Feb. 25 in Maui Circuit Court, where Maui groups and the state are expected to argue whether mitigation measures for the harbor have been adequate.

"I'm glad Judge August ruled as he did (leaving some traffic controls in place)," said Irene Bowie, executive director of Maui Tomorrow, one of the groups challenging the Superferry's operation. "Traffic is a real concern in that area."

Bowie said the trial could touch upon harbor traffic and changes in recreational use, including canoe paddling.

August said the state has been offering contradictory arguments. First, the state argues that the harbor improvements were part of a general project and not just for the Superferry, but now the state says the exemptions for the harbor improvements are for the ferry operation, the judge noted.

August also raised constitutional questions about the state's interpretation of the recent state exemption from the environmental laws for the Superferry.

He said the state's interpretation would appear to compel changes to the court's findings made under previously existing environmental law.

The judge also raised questions about a state executive order by Gov. Linda Lingle giving transportation officials the authority to require the Superferry to retain security guards "to direct traffic, control signals and respond to unforeseen traffic problems during vehicles' loading or unloading in ports of operation."

August said taken literally, the executive order could mean private security may take over the flow of traffic on public roadways.

August said he had some question about how such power can be delegated to a private entity in light of the obligation of the police to enforce existing law.

In his ruling, August also decided to return the road striping of Puunene Avenue to its original configuration of two lanes of traffic leaving and entering the harbor, after listening to testimony from Maui police Lt. Wayne Ibarra.

Traffic had been changed to three lanes entering Kaahumanu Avenue and one lane leading from it.

Ibarra said overall, traffic moved better under the original configuration.

State legislation passed during a special session last month allowed the Superferry to resume operation before it prepared an environmental impact study, and lifted an Aug. 27 court ruling halting operation.

Star-Bulletin stringer Wendy Osher contributed to this report.