Saturday, December 15, 2007

Hawaii Superferry task force worries over inspections

Hawaii Superferry task force worries over inspections

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The Superferry arrived at Kahului Harbor on Maui on Thursday under the watchful eyes of the U.S. Coast Guard, waiting on the dock at right.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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  • Michael Formby, representative from the state Department of Transportation
  • Sandra Kunimoto, director of the state Department of Agriculture, or her representative.
  • Laura H. Thielen, chairwoman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, or her representative.
  • Michael Lau, state attorney general's office
  • John Garibaldi, president and CEO of the Hawaii Superferry
  • Michael Matsukawa, a Big Island attorney appointed by the Senate to represent the general business community
  • Dennis Chun, a Hawaiian studies instructor at Kaua'i Community College appointed by the Senate as a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner
  • William Aila Jr., harbor master, Wai'anae Small Boat Harbor, who was appointed by the Senate to represent O'ahu's environmental community
  • Randy Awo, Maui branch manager of the Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, appointed by the Senate to represent Maui
  • Colette Machado, Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, appointed by the House to represent Moloka'i
  • Kauila Clark, appointed by the House as a O'ahu Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner
  • Sara Peck, a University of Hawai'i Sea Grant College Program extension agent, appointed by the House to represent the Big Island's environmental community
  • Jeff Mira, assistant vice president and general manager for Honsador Lumber, LLC, appointed by the House to represent Kaua'i
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    One day after the Hawai'i Superferry resumed service to Maui, members of an oversight task force questioned whether inspections of vehicles and baggage entering the ship will be effective.

    The 13-member task force met yesterday for the first time. The oversight group was born out of legislation that permitted the Superferry to resume service while the state conducts an environmental review of the project, which could take one to two years.

    Some task force members questioned the ability of inspectors to find objects the ferry is not allowed to carry, such as iwi, or human bones.

    Colette Machado, a Moloka'i resident and Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee who was appointed to the task force, said, the inspectors "have to be trained, or at least have some scientific background. We're looking for cultural, scientific people ... or they may be kama'aina archaeologists."

    Task force member William Aila Jr. said that inspectors may be able to detect obviously prohibited items such as 'opihi, but would they be able to stop the importation of culturally significant items such as ka'ai, or burial caskets.

    The task force discussed the possibility of reviewing the qualifications of sub-contractors who will be hired by environmental consulting firm Belt Collins to oversee the ferry inspectors.

    Michael Formby, deputy director of harbors for the state Department of Transportation, said he would investigate whether the task force has the ability to "affect the scope" of Belt Collins' operations and the resumes of potential sub-contractors. Belt Collins officials have been directed to forward requests for interviews to the state Department of Transportation.

    Following yesterday's meeting at the Honolulu Airport's conference center, the task force greeted the Superferry at Honolulu Harbor's Pier 19 and watched passengers and vehicles disembark the 350-foot ship, the Alakai.

    The topic of inspections also came up during the visit to the ship, Formby said.

    Randy Awo, who was appointed to the task force by the Senate as a private citizen but works as the Maui branch manager of the Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, asked whether inspectors actually put their hands through layers of ice piled into coolers to see if objects are being smuggled.

    The answer was that Superferry inspectors don't. But Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officers probably would.

    The legislation that allowed the Superferry to go forward included 40 conditions, addressing everything from its speed in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, to having National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-certified observers who live in Hawai'i to serve as lookouts.

    But the wording that created the oversight task force "is rather broad," Formby said. Members were unsure yesterday how far they can push their authority onto the Superferry.

    "It's going to be interesting to see how far they want to go and how far involved in the operation they want to go," said Formby. "Some of the things they may want to do may not be lawful. But as long as it's legal, if the majority wants to do it, we can do it."

    Machado compared the task force's oversight of the Superferry to using a "fine-tooth comb to remove 'uku," or head lice.

    "That takes a lot of work and it's quite slow," Machado said.

    The oversight task force includes John Garibaldi, Hawai'i Superferry's president and CEO, members of various state agencies and Hawaiian cultural practitioners and environmentalists.

    The oversight task force is required to meet every month and report on its activities at the end of each month to the Legislature. Its final report is due at the start of the 2009 legislative session.

    Dennis Chun, who was appointed by the state Senate as a Kaua'i cultural practitioner, asked, "If something's not working, we have a report. But what comes after that?"

    Formby directed the task force to the legislation that brought them together, which says the Legislature and the governor have the power to impose further requirements on the Superferry.

    "They would decide what action they want to take," said Formby.

    Formby served as the task force's facilitator yesterday.

    The task force is scheduled to meet again at 1 p.m. on Jan. 10 at the Honolulu airport.

    Reach Dan Nakaso at