Debate over future Hawaii Superferry service continues

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Still ensnared in legal troubles spurred by environmental protest, Hawaii Superferry is preparing to sail again, albeit briefly.

On Saturday, the 350-foot ferry, the Alakai, will sail between Oahu and Maui in order to "to reunite owners with vehicles stranded on Oahu and Maui," the operator said.

The vehicles were left on the islands last week after environmentalists gained a temporary restraining order, which shut down the inter-island ferry service until the state conducts an environmental impact study.

A court hearing has been slated for Monday to determine if the ferry service will be able to continue operating while the study is being conducted.

It has been a tumultuous two weeks for the fledgling ferry service, which began operating on Aug. 26.

A day after it launched, environmental groups, who have been long critical of the service, staged a protest in the wake of an Aug. 23 ruling by Hawaii's Supreme Court's stating that the state's government should have conducted an environmental impact study before permitting Hawaii Superferry to operate.

The Supreme Court's ruling overturned a lower court's July 2005 ruling permitting the service, after environmental groups challenged it then.

During its second day of operation, dozens of protestors riding surfboards formed a blockade to prevent the ferry vessel's entry into Kauai's Nawiliwili Harbor, according to published reports.

Oahu-Kauai service was later suspended through at least Sept. 9 after the U.S. Coast Guard informed Hawaii Superferry that, in light of the environmental protests, it could not ensure safe passage into the harbor.

The USCG has also said it intends to establish a designated area in or around the harbor specifically for protestors, so that the ferry can operate. However, it remains unclear whether the service would resume.

Hawaii Superferry said in statement that so far, "We have not yet been given assurances from the Coast Guard for safe passage into Nawiliwili Harbor."

Meanwhile, it appeared as if the controversy over Hawaii Superferry was escalating.

The Honolulu Advertiser, a local newspaper, reported that state government officials were critical of the court's ruling in favor of an environmental study.

Government officials said they acted properly in permitting the ferry's operation and questioned the fairness of the court's ruling, arguing that other modes of transportation such as airlines and cruise ships are typically not required to undergo environmental impact evaluations in order to launch new services, the news report stated.

However, environmental groups contend a study is necessary to determine whether Hawaii Superferry, which is capable of carrying 866 passengers and more than 300 vehicles, will have an impact on the island's sea life.

To contact reporter Michael Milligan, send e-mail to [email protected].

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