Superferry return from the dead

SOURCE: Dick Mayer (
SUBHEAD: Lawmaker wants state to give Hawaiian interisland Superferry system another try.  

[IB Editor's Note: Now that the Superferry's were bought by the Navy they could lease them to the state of Hawaii for civilian interstate travel - thus dooming the outer islands.]  

By Ilima Loomis on 30 December 2011 for The Maui News - 

Image above: Military personnel try to get civilian "Superferry" going in Hawaii. From (

Nearly three years after the Hawaii Superferry suspended its operations, state Rep. Joe Souki hopes to restart discussion about an interisland ferry system with legislation he introduced earlier this year. House Bill 1239 would establish a Hawaii state ferry system, along with a special fund to pay for the program, opening the door for a public or private operator to "ferry people and cargo between the islands." The bill stalled in the state Senate this year, but it has been carried over to the 2012 legislative session. [Note by Brad Parsons: In part the legislation creates an authority that would;
" soon as practicable, shall engage in communications with the United States Department of Transportation and the United States Maritime Administration relating to federal funding assistance and the possible purchase or lease of the former high speed ferry vessel that operated in waters of the State or other available suitable vessels to commence its operations."
"It's basically to get people talking about it again," Souki said this week. "I want to restart and see where it goes from there." He said it made sense for islands to be joined by a ferry system "like a superhighway." "It should be done," he said. "We're a state bounded by air and water. We should be connected."

While the proposal calls for the establishment of a statewide ferry system, it does not specify whether that system would be operated by the government or a private company. "It leaves it open," Souki said. "I think we're well aware that the state doesn't have the finances now, so more than likely it would have to be a private system, like we had the last time."

 While the Hawaii Superferry was short-lived, Souki said he didn't believe that meant an interisland ferry system could not work. He said the Superferry's failure involved many factors, including costly lawsuits, protests that discouraged passengers, and the loss of funds when investment bank Lehman Bros. "went kaput."

 And Souki was still smarting over a 2009 decision by the Hawaii Supreme Court to overturn a state law that exempted the Superferry from normal environmental reviews, on the grounds that it gave special treatment to the company. He said the decision was the nail in the Superferry's coffin. "That damn Supreme Court coming up with a decision that it was special legislation," he said. "What the hell do they think? Every piece of legislation we pass is special."

 Ed Welch, legislative director for the Passenger Vessel Association, located in Alexandria, Va., said that while Hawaii Superferry was a member of his organization, he wasn't knowledgeable enough about the company's finances to say why it failed. But he did say that the distance and rough water between the islands would likely be an issue for any operator.

"Most ferry operators on the Mainland are not operating on the open ocean," he said. "That is one factor. The 'seakeeping' of the vessel, the comfort, the ride, is much more challenging." Ferries in Europe, which are built to cross rough bodies of water like the English Channel or the Baltic Sea, are "huge vessels, almost the size of cruise ships," to better withstand the wind and waves, he noted. Welch said there are some examples on the Mainland of ferry systems run by private operators, including the ferries that serve Catalina Island off California.

But he said private ferries are "a minority." "If you look at other places around the country - Alaska, Washington state, North Carolina or coastal Texas - where there are substantial ferry operations, those are run by government entities," he said. Irene Bowie, executive director of Maui Tomorrow, which opposed the Superferry, said she was closely watching Souki's proposal but that her group wasn't against an interisland ferry system on principle.

Maui Tomorrow's top concerns would be for any system to undergo a "true environmental review," and show that it could operate successfully without harming wildlife or the environment, she said. "The Superferry was loaded with problems," she said. "A different kind of ferry system is something I think everyone would consider."

 Souki said it would be up to the public to keep his proposal alive by speaking out if they were in favor of an interisland ferry system, since "the last time all we heard from were the dissidents." After being carried over to the 2012 Legislature, his bill has until the session ends in May to move forward. "Or, we can even call a special session again so the Supreme Court can veto it again," he joked.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Superferrys go to Navy 12/23/11


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