Members of the state Senate Committee on Ways and Means voted to cut in half funding for harbor improvements statewide to accommodate the arrival of the Hawaii Superferry, from $20 million to $10 million, for the coming fiscal year, citing a lack of communication by Superferry officials.
“Hawaii Superferry representatives have had every opportunity to communicate with the community and the Legislature over the past year, and have failed to do so,” committee member J. Kalani English, D-Maui County, said in a press release Wednesday.
According to the release, Superferry officials have repeatedly put off public forums since members of the state Legislature appropriated $40 million over two years for statewide harbor-improvement projects. Though $20 million was paid for the current fiscal year, legislators decided to make a statement for the coming fiscal year.
“The people have a right to know how they will protect our environment and safeguard our harbors,” English said. “All the concerns of the community deserve a fair hearing.”
Superferry officials objected, saying they have been active in the community ever since the resolution of two lawsuits filed on Maui last year. In both cases, judges ruled in favor of the Superferry.
“Our progress in getting information out really hinged on successfully defending what our project was,” said Hawaii Superferry President and Chief Executive Officer John Garibaldi.
Garibaldi also took issue with the committee members’ assertion that there has been a lack of communication, pointing to an informational session between members of the state Legislature and Superferry officials scheduled for April 12, which is now moot. He also contests the assertion of a lack of communication with members of the public.
“We’ve been out in the community in a number of different venues,” he said.
Superferry leaders formed advisory boards on Kaua‘i, Maui and the Big Island, the three islands serviced by the ferry where the harbors stand to be affected more than Honolulu, Garibaldi said.
“There is a good amount of discussion going on, and we believe that is the most efficient way of getting information out there and receiving information back.”
To address the communication issue, the committee members approved a budget provision that will require leaders in the state Department of Transportation Harbors Division to hold three public forums on each of the four islands to be serviced by the Superferry.
Along with members of the Hawaii Harbor Users Group, DOT leaders will have to conduct site assessments to gauge the Superferry’s impact on the current users of the affected ports.
Members of a conference committee will meet in the next week or two to finalize the appropriation before the April 28 deadline.
“It’s all in the hands of the Legislature right now,” said Jayson Watts, legislative director for committee Vice Chairman Shan S. Tsutsui.
Garibaldi is confident the Superferry leaders will recover the full funding, stating that members of the same committee pulled the full $40 million a year ago before other members of the state Legislature reinstated it.
“We look forward to the chance to address the House and Senate,” he said. “I think the $20 million will come through.”
If it does not, however, Garibaldi said it will have a negative impact on the Superferry. Whether that means dropping a port or cutting costs across the board will be up to state officials, he said.
Ford Gunter, business reporter, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or firstname.lastname@example.org.