Hawaii Superferry gets go-ahead for Oahu-Kauai route

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Hawaii Superferry will resume service between Oahu and Kauai now that a security plan has been developed to assure safe passage for the vessel and its passengers.

Under the plan, Hawaii Superferry, which can accommodate 866 passengers and more than 300 vehicles, will resume service from Oahu to Kauai on Sept. 26, albeit on a limited schedule.

In a statement, Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle said that state and city government officials, in cooperation with local law enforcement and the Coast Guard, developed the plan to allow the Superferry to safely enter and depart Kauai's Nawiliwili Harbor, where protestors confronted the vessel last month.

The plan establishes a designated security zone where protestors opposed to the ferry operation are permitted to demonstrate.

Lingle said law enforcement agencies would strictly enforce the zone.

A day after the interisland ferry began operating on Aug. 26 between Oahu, Maui and Kauai, it was confronted by swimmers and surfers who formed a blockade to prevent the ferry's entry into Kauai's Nawiliwili Harbor.

After the confrontation, Hawaii Superferry service was suspended until law enforcement and the Coast Guard could develop security arrangements to assure safe passage into the harbor.

Protestors want the ferry to remain docked until the state completes a study to determine if it will have a negative impact on the island's sea life.

However, state officials contend that Hawaii Superferry has already satisfied certain environmental regulations.

"We believe the plan will protect public safety, recognize Hawaii Superferry's legal right to operate, provide lawful opportunities for those who want to protest and move to restore the state's reputation as a place of mutual respect for those who have differing points of view," Lingle said.

"We respect everyone's right to voice their opinion, but we will not allow a small group of protestors to act out in a lawless manner to obstruct the operations of a legitimate business, intimidate the people who wish to use its services or put people's lives at risk."

Protestors were critical of the plan.

Jeff Mikulina, director of the Sierra Club's Hawaii chapter, told the Associated Press, "It is highly inappropriate for Superferry to travel to Nawiliwili before an environmental review is complete. Not only is such a trip contrary to state law, it belies common sense. We study and prepare for adverse impacts before they happen, not after."

Oahu-Maui service still suspended

Meanwhile, the legal wrangling over Hawaii Superferry's suspended Oahu-Maui service continued in a Maui courtroom last week. On August 29, Maui's Circuit Court ruled to continue a temporary restraining order filed against the company by environmental groups.

During the week, the court listened to arguments that ultimately will determine whether it will lift the temporary restraining order to permit the Hawaii Superferry to continue service while the state conducts an environmental assessment, or whether the ferry will be prohibited from operating in Maui until the study is completed.

At press time, the court had not ruled on the temporary restraining order, which remained in effect until Sept. 14.

The long-running controversy surrounding Hawaii Superferry gained steam on Aug. 23 when the state's Supreme Court ruled Hawaii's government should have conducted an environmental-impact study before permitting the ferry to operate.

Hawaii's Supreme Court's ruling overturned a lower court's decision in July 2005 permitting the service, which was challenged then by environmental groups.

The court's ruling has been criticized by state government officials who contend the environmental study is extraordinary since other modes of transportation, such as airlines and cruise ships, are typically not required to undergo such evaluations in order to launch new services.

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

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