Hawaii Superferry's relaunch plans for Kauai run aground

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Hawaii Superferry will not move forward with its previously announced plans to resume operations between Oahu and Kauai on Sept. 26 after all.

"Hawaii Superferry has made the decision that in consideration for the safety of the community, our passengers and our dedicated employees, the resumption of service to Kauai will be delayed to an unspecified future date," the company said in a statement.

The decision came on the heels of a tense public meeting Thursday between Gov. Linda Lingle and members of the Kauai community.

The meeting was called to discuss a plan devised by the governor, government leaders, law enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard that conceptually would permit the ferry to operate in Kauai's Nawiliwili Harbor while accommodating environmentalists' protests against it.

Under the plan, law enforcement agencies would establish a zone within the harbor where environmentalists would be permitted to stage protests against the ferry without blocking its passage.

The plan was developed in response to an incident in August just one day after the long-awaited service began.

Protestors, who fear the ferry will be harmful to sea life, rode surfboards and formed a blockade to prevent the vessel's entry into Nawiliwili Harbor. The service was suspended soon after.

The governor's plan at first appeared to clear the way for Hawaii Superferry's return.

However, the public meeting signaled the plan wasn't enough to quell the ongoing controversy.

For instance, while a Kauai circuit court affirmed that Hawaii Superferry had complied with certain environmental regulations and could operate between Oahu and Kauai, at least one protestor attending the meeting indicated that environmentalists had nevertheless petitioned the court for a temporary restraining order [TRO] in an attempt to dry dock the service until after the state conducts a broader environmental study.

A separate TRO has kept Hawaii Superferry from sailing between Maui and Oahu. That service remains suspended until at least Sept. 30, when the circuit court is expected to decide whether the ferry will be able to operate between the two islands.

Others attending the meeting on Kauai framed the impasse over the ferry as a battle between the environmental and cultural concerns of native Hawaiians and the interests of big business and government.

At the same time, some attendees at the meeting voiced support for the ferry service and the potential convenience it could provide.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear when or if the $90 million ferry, capable of transporting up to 866 passengers and 300 vehicles, will resume sailing.

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

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