Friday, March 20, 2009

EIS Study ordered as ferry ends

Study ordered as ferry ends

Under stricter law, state seeks environmental review for future use

The state Department of Transportation plans to complete an environmental impact statement for Hawaii Superferry, laying an important plank in the legal groundwork if Superferry chooses to resume operations in the Islands.


Thomas Fargo, Superferry's president and chief executive officer, said yesterday that Superferry is looking for commercial and military charter options for the Alakai and a second catamaran after a state Supreme Court ruling on Monday led the company to cease operations.

The Alakai made its last scheduled round trip between O'ahu and Maui yesterday, where passengers and employees, including many who will be laid off today, expressed sadness and anger about the shutdown.

Fargo said Superferry would retain its company name and a minimum staff to maintain operations in Hawai'i. He left open the possibility the Alakai could again run between the Islands, but said the company has no option but to look elsewhere.

"The problem before us today is there appears to be no short-term solution to this ruling," Fargo said at an early morning news conference at Honolulu Harbor's Pier 19. "To conduct another EIS (environmental impact statement), even with the work done to date, and move it through the legal review that it would have to go through, might take a year or so. And other options don't provide the certainty that's necessary to sustain a business.

"As a result, we're going to have to go out and find other employment for Alakai, for now. Obviously, this is not even close to our preferred and desired outcome. We have believed from the very start, and continue to believe, that there's a clear and unmet need for an interisland high-speed ferry system for this state.

"My hope, our hope, is that the conditions will eventually be such that we can realize that vision here in Hawai'i."

Brennon Morioka, the director of the state Department of Transportation, said state contractor Belt Collins has completed most of the work on the $1.5 million environmental review ordered by the law the court struck down.

The department will essentially start the process over under the procedural framework of state's more stringent environmental review law, known as Chapter 343, but hopes to transfer the bulk of the work already performed into the new document.

Morioka said a completed environmental review could be used by Superferry or any other ferry company interested in the Islands.

"All of the information and all of the studies we have done to this point are all still valid," he said.

Backlash feared

Robert Harris, director of the Sierra Club Hawai'i chapter, one of three environmental groups that brought the legal challenge against Superferry, said his group would likely not object to the state salvaging some of the environmental work on Superferry.

Harris said a bigger concern, however, was whether some of the anger over Superferry will lead some to want to dismantle the state's environmental review law. He said it was the decisions by the state and Superferry, and not the environmental review process, that was the problem.

"The DOT and Superferry were told to do an EIS, and if they had done that, we would not have had this situation," he said.

Fargo, in his first public comments since the court ruling, described it as "a terrible decision" but said the company accepts that it is the law.

Under questioning from reporters in Honolulu and Maui, Fargo would not address whether Superferry would repay the state for $40 million in harbor improvements other than to say that the payments were based on fees generated by ferry service. Superferry has paid the state about $2.5 million in fees and taxes since it has been in operation.

Fargo would also not discuss the extent of the company's financial losses or the possibility Superferry might file a lawsuit against the state. He said Superferry proved, after a year in service, that it took adequate steps to protect the environment. He said the ferry was popular with locals and small businesses and was beginning to tap into the tourist market.

Fargo said the company was expecting delivery of a second $95 million ferry soon from shipbuilder Austal USA of Mobile, Ala., and met Wednesday with officials from Virtru Ferries about leasing the second vessel. Virtu operates high-speed ferries between Malta and Sicily in the Mediterranean.

The second ferry was to have started service to Kawaihae early this year, but the company announced in September that it would delay the start of Big Island operations by a year in response to slower demand and the economic recession.

Fargo, after mentioning that the military might want to lease the Alakai, addressed speculation by some activists who have opposed the project that Superferry was designed from the start as a military operation.

"That's absolutely not true," said Fargo, a former Navy admiral. "We certainly wouldn't have gone to the trouble to paint Alakai in the manner that we did, to appoint her with 836 first-class seats, to spend the huge sums of money that we did to establish service here in Hawai'i if that was our goal.

"The goal that's unmistakable was to provide regular and reliable commercial ferry service in these Islands."

Early Superferry executives — and main investor John F. Lehman, a former Navy secretary — had praised the ferry's military utility in initial discussions with the state, including the possibility the ferry could be used to transport the Army's Stryker brigade between O'ahu and the Big Island. The second vessel was outfitted with a vehicle ramp that could make it more useful to the military.

REvisiting the ruling

Gov. Linda Lingle and state House and Senate leaders have said they would ask the state Supreme Court to reconsider aspects of its ruling. The court found that the Superferry was special legislation written for a single company. The governor and lawmakers are concerned, among other things, that the ruling will unduly restrict the Legislature's power.

Fargo spoke to reporters in Honolulu in the morning and then flew to Maui to join company vice chairman John Garibaldi and others for the final voyage.

With three blasts from its horn, the Alakai pulled away from Pier 2C at Kahului Harbor just after 11 a.m. for the return leg home.

As the 350-foot, high-speed vessel maneuvered toward the harbor entrance, passengers and employees crowded the outer decks and waved aloha while a tugboat sprayed water into the air in a traditional maritime tribute.

The Alakai sailed from Ho- nolulu to Maui with 290 passengers and 84 vehicles aboard, including many employees. The return trip carried 398 passengers and 126 vehicles. The vessel is capable of carrying 836 people and 230 autos.

Tracy Knight of Makiki and her family had to cut short a weeklong Maui vacation to catch the ferry back to Honolulu with their two cars. They had arrived Sunday on the Alakai.

"We loved it. We were really bummed. It's very sad. I hope they don't leave for good," said Knight, 34, who works for a liquor distributor. "They were very conscious of the whales on the way over, and everyone really enjoyed it."

Father-and-son classic car owners Butch Meyer, 65, of 'Ewa Beach, and Duane Meyer, 38, of Ha'iku, Maui, were taking their prized vehicles to Honolulu on the ferry. The elder Meyer's 1932 Ford sedan was refurbished on Maui, although the work was not quite finished before he had to catch the last ferry.

"I hate that it shut down. I love the ferry. It's one of the best things for us," he said, referring to car enthusiasts.

Duane Meyer, who owns a towing company, said he used the ferry on a regular basis to transport his souped-up 1965 Ford Mustang to car shows. He said he would have to ship the Mustang back to Maui on a Young Brothers barge at four times the cost of using Superferry.

"This is stupid. They should let the people decide and not some stupid judges," he said.

Holding tears back while directing cars into the vehicle check-in area at Kahului Harbor, port utility operator Corrine Dutro-Ponce planned to join co-workers on the Alakai for the final sailing. "It's like a death," she said.

Dutro-Ponce joined the Superferry in its early days in July 2007 and lived through the ups and downs of a legal battle that ended with Monday's ruling.

"It was hard, but we stuck it out and we always had hope we would survive, and we still have hope that it will start again," she said.

Dutro-Ponce was uncertain about her job prospects. "I'll have to fight for a job like everyone else," she said.

Reach Derrick DePledge at and Christie Wilson at

In your voice

Read reactions to this story
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LeftMyHome wrote:
punatiki, get your facts straight. Matson barges are towed at about 8 knots and Alakai tops out at about 37. By my math, if Alakai went 10x faster they would go 80knots, which is about what a Nimitz class carrier and Navy subs can do. Not to mention that the hydroplane ferry service in 70's never had issues with whales and they traveled up to 40knots. Invasive species is a bogus argument, cars on barges and cruise ships pose the same risks from tire tread and ballast water but no one makes a stink about them.

since the ferry traveled at speeds up to 10 times faster than the Matson barges and offered a much easier vector for inter island invasive species.
03/20/2009 7:45:10 a.m.
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punatiki wrote:
The court ruling just proves political muscle does not trump the Law. The SF may have had the permission of Lingle, but the ENTIRE government is comprised of 3 branches - each having checks and balances on EACH other. Anyone thinking the court should NOT rule on the Law needs a refresher course in civics.

Before the ship was even built the SF management was TOLD they would be sued if they proceeded without an environmental statement. A statement was required since the ferry traveled at speeds up to 10 times faster than the Matson barges and offered a much easier vector for inter island invasive species. They ignored it and hid inside Lingle's skirts. To me at least the management is to blame for the lost jobs.

I was bought up to obey the Law, and the Law has spoken. Act 2 was illegal.

The concept of the SF is a great grand idea, shoved down our throats by politics, which eventually blew up in their own faces.

Too bad, Hawaiian Power Politics rears its ugly head again.

03/20/2009 7:30:14 a.m.
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HIBusinessBoy wrote:
The government made poor judgement. The worst of it is they let some small local non profit push them around. Instead of fighting back and keeping them at a distance this showed our state that our government and Lingle are week and don't know how to fight back.

This so called decision the supreme court made could affect old and new laws about doing business in hawaii is just a smoke screen. The bottome line is the enviornmentalist picked on a fresh entity in hawaii and won. If the super ferry was that important to the economy and the people of hawaii the government would have fought harder. They took for granted that Act 2 would do it but they kept picking away at it in court till they got what they wanted to hear and here we are.
03/20/2009 7:29:06 a.m.
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LeftMyHome wrote:
This is truly sad for Hawaii but I would expect nothing less from a state that caters to a small, uneducated, vocal minority. I was born and raised in Honolulu but move to California a few years ago to get away from stuff like this. What most people don't realize is that Matson, NCL and the Navy cruise along at almost the same speed if not greater (Navy battle groups) than that of Alakai so speed is just a cover up. The real reason is that these groups are more interested in never having any progress or economic growth in the state because they are scared little cockroachs who never want change! Well it looks like they get it, not to mention sending the state even further into the financial toilet. I hate to say it but I don't think I will ever move back home, which I love and miss dearly. I hope for the future of the state, that the citizens can vote in some strong politicians. BTW the most vocal activist on Kauai is retired LAPD who was asked to retire early, sounds local to me.
03/20/2009 7:28:08 a.m.
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haynboy wrote:
All this confirms to me is that JUDGES and our Judicial System is keeping an eye out for the INTEREST of the RICH and POWERFUL!

Easy to stop the FERRY just as it is setting a killer free!(giving killers weak sentences)
03/20/2009 7:27:57 a.m.
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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Superferry To Announce Future Thursday morning 6:30am

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Dick Mayer <>
Date: Wed, Mar 18, 2009 at 6:45 PM
Subject: Superferry To Announce Future Thursday morning 6:30am
To: Dick Mayer <>

Superferry To Announce Future
Thursday  (Live on TV - 6:30am)

Options Include Leaving, Waiting, Supreme Court Reconsideration

HONOLULU -- The Hawaii Superferry will hold a news conference on Thursday morning to announce it future plans.

Island Television News This Morning will carry that news conference live from Pier 19.

Possible options for the Superferry include packing up and getting out of Hawaii for good, wait the months it would take to complete a new environmental review in hopes of resuming service here, or seeking reconsideration by the state Supreme Court.
The governor said she hopes the Supreme Court will take another look at it's ruling that the law was unconstitutional to allowed the Superferry to operate while completing its environmental review.

"The Legislature is looking at perhaps requesting a reconsideration along with us. Ask the Supreme Court to take another look at this beyond the Superferry issue. There are larger implications from the decision," Lingle said.

The governor said the Supreme Court decision is too broad because it said the Legislature can never do anything to favor one group over another but that is what lawmakers do every day.

Superferry makes its last round trip for now to Maui to return stranded vehicles and customers to their homeports on Thursday.

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