Superferry Sails Without EIS

By Léo Azambuja

In a defiant move, Hawaii Superferry officials decided to move the maiden voyage of the controversial boat up by two days. The decision came after the Hawaii Supreme Court ordered the HSF to conduct an environmental assessment – a decision that could halt the HSF’s operation.

Tickets were being offered at a bargain price of $5 over the weekend. In a press release, the company’s president and CEO, John Garibaldi, said the low fare was in appreciation for the communities of the Hawaiian Islands. Garibaldi also mentioned the date change, but gave no reasons for it.

Community support seems like something the HSF is lacking on Maui and Kauai.

Hundreds of residents showed up at Nawiliwili Harbor to protest against the HSF on Sunday. Kauai resident Debbie Erickson said surfers paddled in front the Harbor entrance, blocking the HSF, and delaying its arrival by more than an hour.

Erickson said the Coast Guard was circling surfers aggressively, using hooks to try to grab them out of the water. “It was pretty heavy,” she said. In the end the Coast Guard managed to grab a couple surfboards, according to Erickson.

State rep. Mele Carroll had introduced a bill in the house in 2005 which would have required the HSF to complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). “The law triggers it,” she said. However, the bill was defeated. Carroll said no study has been done to access invasive species impact on outer islands.

Erickson said residents on Kauai were concerned the HSF would bring in potential and irreversible environmental damages to the island, such as coqui frogs and mongoose. Erickson said the population is also worried about a potential increase in drug trafficking.

The drug issue was also on Carroll’s mind. “I’m always worried about crime regarding transit of drugs,” she said.

Oceanographer and Marine Policy Specialist Joana Tavares said large boats are perfect vehicles to carry invasive species, such as the Gracilaria salicornia. This invasive limu is an aggressive species, rapidly spreading and suffocating native species. Gracilaria salicornia is present in several locations on Oahu’s South Shore.

Senator Kalani English said an EIS was supposed to have been done in the beginning. “The EIS was required under the law,” he said. “It’s been my position all along.”

But just when the HSF seemed to have won a political arm wrestle against naysayers on Kauai and Maui, the tide turned. On Monday the circuit court of the second circuit granted a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) filled by The Sierra Club, Maui Tomorrow Inc., and Kahului Harbor against the State Department of Transportation (DOT), the State agency responsible for allowing the HSF to operate without an EIS.

The TRO signed by Judge Jeffrey Cardoza prohibited the DOT from permitting the HSF to use Kahului Harbor for its operations. The HSF was also ordered to immediately offer a return trip to customers back to their home port, and cease operations at Kahului Harbor thereafter.

“I’m relieved to know that there is regard for the law,” English said. “When one branch of the government exceeds the law, there’s another branch that can check it.”

The State of Hawaii helped subsidize the HSF with $40 million. According to interpretations of the law, the State was supposed to conduct an environmental assessment at its own expense.

The director of the Hawaii chapter of the Sierra Club, Jeffrey Mikulina, said in a press release that the HSF was well aware of the State law. “They made a conscious choice to ignore the law, despite calls from neighbor island communities, lawmakers, and environmentalists,” Mikulina said.

Following the TRO ruling, HSF officials released a statement lamenting Judge Cardoza’s decision. The statement said the HSF had overwhelming community support. “More than 16,000 people from around the state have toured the Alakai and shared our excitement for Hawaii Superferry,” the statement said.

Kauai residents who opposed the HSF didn't have a TRO to stop the HSF from docking at Nawiliwili Harbor on Monday, but it didn’t matter much. The HSF was forced to turn back as over 50 surfers and several canoes cruising blocked the harbor’s entrance in protest. On land, a huge turnout of protesters added support to the HSF opposition. 

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