Hawaii lawmakers move to aid Hawaii Superferry

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State lawmakers in Hawaii were working rapidly to craft legislation that would allow Hawaii Superferry to resume operations despite a court ruling Oct. 9 that it remain docked until after an environmental impact study, or EIS, is completed.

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle and state Senate and House leaders met over the past several days in an effort to build a consensus around a proposed bill crafted specifically to remedy the environmental entanglements that have kept the inter-island ferry from operating between Maui, Kauai and Oahu.

The governor commented that once a consensus was reached on the legislation, a special session of Hawaii's legislature would convene to quickly vote on the measure.

The fast-moving timetable could conceivably allow Hawaii Superferry to resume operations before the end of October.

 

"The bigger issues are keeping the service for the people of Hawaii over the long term and protecting the state's reputation in how we operate," Gov. Lingle said during an interview on KSSK, a talk radio station based in Honolulu.

Lingle contended that the court had gone "beyond merely interpreting the law" when it ruled the state government erred by approving the ferry's operation without assessing its impact on the environment and sea life, such as humpback whales, that inhabit Hawaii's waters.

   

"The original decision that the state Department of Transportation made [to permit the ferry to operate without the EIS] was based on the law as everyone had interpreted it," she said. "There have never been environmental assessments [done for] vessels" such as cruise ships and other ferries that now operate in Hawaii.

Nonetheless, it was likely that the state legislature's plan to approve a Hawaii Superferry-specific bill would run into opposition from environmentalists and others who, through lawsuits and protests, have attempted to block the high-speed ferry service until after an environment assessment can be completed.

Separately, Hawaii Superferry, which essentially has been unable to operate since its official launch in August, said that it would layoff 249 of its 308 employees. The company estimated that it is loosing more than $600,000 each week the service remains idle.

"An unavoidable consequence of the recent ruling is that we have reached the point where Hawaii Superferry can no longer bear the financial cost of fully retaining its workforce," said company President and CEO John Garibaldi in a statement posted on the company's Web site.

"We remain committed to providing Hawaii's residents and businesses with a safe and reliable inter-island ferry system. It is our hope that we will have the opportunity to bring our furloughed employees back to work in the near future," the statement continued.

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

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