Senate Superferry hearing tomorrow on Kaua‘i

Two Senate committees plan to hold a public hearing on Kaua‘i tomorrow to gather comments on a proposed bill requiring Hawaii Superferry to conduct an environmental impact statement before it begins inter-island operations this July.

The Senate Committee on Transportation and the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment will conduct the hearing at the historic County Building at 10 a.m., according to Kaua‘i Sen. Gary Hooser, who favors an EIS even though the state Department of Transportation Harbors Division didn’t require one.

Citing one reason for waiving the requirement, the agency said the barges that will be used to let vehicles and passengers disembark from the ferry are temporary in nature — an assessment Hooser disagrees with.

“The reality is that the barges are affixed to a pier, so they are permanent,” thus triggering the need for the study, as required by state law, Senate majority leader Hooser said in an interview yesterday.

Hooser said the Senate committee meetings to be held on Kaua‘i and at 5 p.m. the same day on Maui are unusual, because these types of proceedings usually occur at the state capitol.

“The Senate committees recognize how important it is and how difficult it is for the Neighbor Island residents to participate and submit testimony,” Hooser said of the difficulty in flying to Honolulu to give testimony. “So we are bringing the hearings to them.”

District 14 State House Rep. Hermina Morita has introduced similar legislation, Hooser said.

The push for an EIS is more about measuring the project’s impacts, Hooser said.

“It is not necessarily about stopping the Superferry,” he said. “It is about making sure they do it the right way.”

People want to know what impacts the project will have on the environment, traffic and crime, Hooser said.

People want to know what measures can be implemented to mitigate the impacts of invasive species, including the coqui frog, he said.

People want to know what road improvements might have to be made on Kaua‘i, for instance, once cars start rolling off the ferries, Hooser said.

Hawaii Superferry officials project an average of 110 vehicles a day — ranging from small vehicles to trucks.

So as not to adversely impact traffic during peak commuting hours on the Garden Island, Hawaii Superferry has adjusted the vessel’s daily arrival time at Nawiliwili Harbor to 5:30 p.m. and a departure time of 6:30 p.m.

Impacts on whales also have to be evaluated, Hooser said.

The call for an EIS has come from state legislators, the Kaua‘i County Council, Maui County Council chairman G. Riki Hokama and other community organizations.

The first Superferry is scheduled to begin operating between Honolulu and Maui and between Honolulu and Kaua‘i in July.

A second vessel is scheduled to begin service between the Big Island and Honolulu in early 2009.

Depending on how quickly an EIS can be conducted if required, it may push back the official launch day, Hooser said.

Hawaii Superferry spokesman Terry O’ Halloran was not available for comment yesterday, but has said the company recognizes potential impacts of the project and has initiated studies that are similar to those carried out for an EIS.

The state Legislature has approved $40 million for superferry improvements at certain state harbors on Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Maui and the Big Island. Many feel that is an indication for a need to study impact.

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