Lawmakers move for swift vote to get Superferry sailing again

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A special session of Hawaii's state legislature was poised to convene as early as this week to vote on a bill that would allow Hawaii Superferry to resume operation, despite a court ruling that it remain docked pending an environmental study.

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle and state Senate and House leaders had been meeting last week in an effort to build a consensus around a narrowly worded bill crafted specifically to remedy the environmental entanglements that have kept the $90 million interisland ferry from operating between Maui, Kauai and Oahu.

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

At press time, published reports indicated that the legislature would meet during the week of Oct. 22.

Operations could resume this month

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

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

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

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

Nonetheless, it was likely that the Hawaii Superferry bill would run into opposition from environmentalists and others who through lawsuits and protests have attempted to block the high-speed ferry service from operating until after an environmental assessment can be completed.

With its future unclear, Hawaii Superferry recently furloughed 249 of its 308 employees.

"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," Hawaii Superferry President and CEO John Garibaldi said 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 interisland ferry system. It is our hope that we will have the opportunity to bring our furloughed employees back to work in the near future."

Hawaii Superferry said it was losing more than $600,000 every week the service remained idle.

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

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