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County Passes Ferry Resolution

While the Maui County Council has yet to decide exactly what type of assistance to extend to Molokai’s floundering ferry system, councilmembers are nearly unanimous in their support of the ferry’s operations.

At their April 7 meeting, councilmembers passed a resolution urging Mayor Alan Arakawa to seek a subsidy for the ferry, which the Lahaina Cruise Company (LCC) reports has lost both riders and funds over the past year.

Councilmember Stacy Crivello introduced the resolution, which asked the mayor to propose an amendment to the fiscal year 2015 budget to appropriate $500,000 to the ferry. The money would come from the county’s Economic Development Revolving Fund (EDRF), which, according to the resolution, currently has an estimated balance of $1 million.

“All this resolution is asking at this time is for our mayor to please take a look at … what can be available from the economic revolving fund,” said Crivello during the meeting. “The final decision really comes from the mayor if he wishes to submit some sort of amendment.”

During the meeting, residents offered testimony remotely from Molokai or submitted letters in support of the ferry and the resolution. The ferry, they said, supports tourism, education and jobs.

Philip Kikukawa, owner of Molokai Bicycle, wrote that the Molokai Princess’s daily routes encourages ecotourism by allowing visitors longer bike rental options. Kathy Flynn wrote that students, sports teams and other residents and organizations “would be negatively impacted” if the ferry were to shut down.

“Loss of ferry service to our island will result in loss of jobs to Molokai residents at a time when our economy is extremely frail,” she said in her letter of support.

Multiple councilmembers also expressed their support for the ferry. However, while Councilmember Don Guzman echoed these sentiments, he felt that the council wasn’t yet in a position to vote on the resolution. When bills are introduced at council meetings, they’re usually referred to a committee, said Maui County Council Communication Director Kit Zulueta.

“I don’t think as a council we’ve received all the information needed to thoroughly and freely debate this issue at council level,” said Guzman. “… I do understand the situation with constituents to travel back and forth. I just need more information to make that informed decision.”

However, Guzman’s motion to send the resolution to a committee first was voted down. Since the resolution had “no force and effect of law,” the council determined it was within the rules to vote on the resolution the same day it was introduced.

Councilmember Gladys Baisa said she felt the council needed more information but also felt the issue was too urgent to deliberate on for long. Under the circumstances, LCC feared a possible shutdown as early as June of this year, according to the resolution, although LCC President David Jung has continually admitted that nothing is guaranteed at this point.

“I know we all want information, and I want it to,” Baisa said. “I want to know, is this a one-time thing? Is 500,000 a good number? How is it gonna be used? … We all want to know all these things, but … if we don’t get this going, the house is burning down while we’re thinking about it.”

Guzman also felt the resolution limited the mayor’s options for financial aid, but Council Chair Mike White reminded Guzman that the resolution “doesn’t require the mayor to do anything.”

The resolution now moves to the mayor. He can decide whether or not to submit a bill to the council, which would pass on the bill to a committee for review.

Councilmember Don Couch said they could also look to the Maui County Department of Transportation for solutions.

“We subsidize our bus system,” Couch pointed out. “We don’t subsidize airlines or ferries but it is in with the purview of the Department of Transportation of this county to consider that. I’m not saying that we do it, just to consider it.”

Crivello said that she’s spoken with Department of Transportation officials and has found early support for the ferry. She said she’s continuing to consider all options, and the resolution is the first step.

“I’m looking at all avenues, not only depending on the county,” she said. “Whatever may be available out there to support this vital transportation.”

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