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State Proposes High-Speed Ferry

All aboard! That seems to be the consensus so far across the Hawaii state legislature for a proposed bill that would jumpstart a state-wide high-speed ferry system.

Rep. Joseph Souki, along with seven other representatives, introduced  House Bill 1239, which would create a system of high-speed vessels traveling at least 30 knots per hour, similar to ones that were used by the Superferry.

The Superferry served Hawaii between 2007-08. Following a Hawaii Supreme Court  ruling, the Superferry shut down in March 2009 due to environmental concerns.

The bill stipulates the high-speed ferry vessels will be able to “carry at least five hundred passengers, two hundred motor vehicles and cargo between the islands of the State.”

The state House of Representatives approved of the HB 1239 in March and it is currently being reviewed by the state Senate.

Possible Service to Molokai
HB 1239 states that the ferry would dock on all islands, including Molokai, but Rep. Souki said that Molokai would not be part of initial operations.

The bill states, “At minimum, the authority shall operate one high speed ferry vessel and other small vessels, as needed, for service to and between the islands of Maui, Molokai, and Lanai and other routes.”

“Molokai is not really our priority right now, because you already have service. But it could be someday,” Souki said, adding that the two-ferry service would serve the “major islands” – Oahu, Kauai, Maui and Hawaii Island.

David Jung, manager of Sea-Link that runs the Molokai Princess ferry service between Molokai and Maui, is worried about the future of his company’s service if the bill passes.

“It’s amazing that this bill has passed [the House] without consulting with the people who are intimate with the situation,” Jung said.

Pros and Cons

Besides the ferry services between Maui, Lanai and Molokai, the other islands lack a marine transportation system. Rep. Souki said he believes business owners, residents, tourists and farmers are deserving of an alternative to air travel.

His Vice-Chair Linda Ichiyama said past state ferry service was welcomed by local farmers.

”There are a lot of farmers on neighbor islands who supported a ferry system, because of increased business for them,” Ichiyama said.

There are many environmental concerns, however, surrounding the proposed ferry. If HB 1239 is signed into law, the state must conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS). The Superferry system was shut down in Dec. 2009 by the Hawaii Supreme Court when it found that the state did not properly conduct the EIS.
 
Many of the safety concerns are aimed at the possibility of marine life being adversely affected, particularly whales, Souki said. He added, however, that no whales were harmed during the Superferry’s tenure.

Whale numbers in the Hawaiian Islands have increased from 600 in the 1970s to the last population estimate at 20,000, according to Jung, who said he is concerned for the safety of the animals if the system moves forward.

Souki said he does not want to hurt the environment, but “we have to learn to live to live together.” “We are surrounded by water and we need to get a marine highway going.”

The bill will be reviewed by the Committee for Ways and Means before it can be sent to the Senate floor for vote.

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