The majority of residents who testified at a meeting yesterday threw their support behind a Senate bill that would require Hawaii Superferry conduct a detailed environmental impact statement before beginning ferry operations in July.
More than 120 people crowded into the historic County Building to hear all or part of the Senate committee hearing convened to discuss the bill.
Those attending voiced concern the ferries might collide with federally protected marine life, increase traffic congestion, and bring more crime, homeless people and drugs to Kaua‘i.
Frederick Wells of Kaua‘i said the ferry will bring O‘ahu’s high-profile crimes to Kaua‘i. He said that opinion was formed after discussions with a newspaper editor on O‘ahu.
“Bank robbers, homes burglarized, cars robbed and people carrying guns,” he said. “We are very concerned that these people will see a great opportunity to travel amongst the islands, load up on what they had stolen during the day, and vanish among 800,000 people (on O’ahu),” he said.
Hawaii Superferry officials, however, say they will work with federal and state agencies to prevent such occurrences.
Joined by one or two other audience members, Don Thornburg of Kaua‘i sparked criticism by saying the Superferry should be allowed to start up because it has complied with all federal and state requirements.
“I oppose this bill, whose intent is to delay the start of the Superferry operation,” he said.
Spearheading the crafting of the bill and in attendance was Kaua‘i Sen. Gary Hooser. Hooser is the Senate majority leader, and sits on the Senate Committee on Transportation and the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment. The hearing was conducted to gauge public opinion on whether an environmental impact statement should be done.
Hooser and Sen. Shan Tsutsui of Maui, the majority Senate caucus leader, have been at the forefront of a statewide community-driven movement asking for an EIS.
Hooser favors the study even though the state Department of Transportation Harbors Division didn’t require one, citing as one reason the lack of a requirement for similar studies for passenger ships and Young Brothers barges and Matson ships.
Hooser says the study should be done to measure the full breadth of the statewide project.
He was joined at the meeting by Tsutsui, Sen. Ron Menor, District 17 O‘ahu, chairman of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, Sen. Kalani English of Maui, chairman o f the Transportation and International Affairs, and 14th House District, North Shore and Eastside Kaua‘i, Rep. Hermina Morita, who said cultural and social impact studies could be required, as allowed by state law.
David Dinner, president of 1,000 Friends and co-chairman of The People for the Preservation of Kaua’i, said many people support the bill because of “concern for the safety and well being of the people of Kaua‘i and its ecology.”
If Hawaii Superferry had the same sentiments, the company would have developed a whale avoidance policy, kept the ferry at a safe speed and created a security system that would provide safeguards against drugs, invasive species and terrorist activities, Dinner said.
But Hawaii Superferry has done those things and more, company spokesman Terry O’ Halloran said in face of overwhelming support for the bill.
“We have recently completed documents that outline what we have done over the years that deal with environmental issues that are of concern to the community,” he said before the meeting. “They deal with invasive species, working with the public outreach group of the Hawaii Invasive Species Council to help us to do our public education program. That is going to be unlike any other transportation company has done previously.”
Unlike most audience members who wanted the EIS, Ed Pickop of Kaua‘i said he opposed the Superferry outright because of the dangerous non-native plants and animals the ferry could bring to Kaua‘i.
Pickop, a plant quarantine inspector for the state Department of Agriculture who said he was speaking for himself only, said the ferry could bring to Kaua‘i the dreaded brown tree snake, which can wipe out the bird population of Kaua‘i.
Dr. Carl Berg, an ecologist and scientist, said the company’s pledge to address community issues is not enough, and that the company should follow up with concrete programs.
“We need to know all the potential impacts of this business venture, and how they will be mitigated or eliminated,” Berg said.
Hawaii Superferry should be required to obtain an incidental take permit from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as part of the EIS process, Berg said.
By securing the permit, Hawaii Superferry would show good faith, as the company would acknowledge a ferry may run into threatened federally protected sealife such as humpback whales and turtles, would work with experts to avoid collisions and would negotiate fines with NOAA should a collision occur.
Wendy Bucket of Kapa‘a said she feared for the life of the whales, as the boat’s “propellers are very sharp. (The ferry) is moving at night.”
Hawaii Superferry chief executive officer John Garabaldi said the company has developed a whale avoidance program with marine sealife experts and scientists and will avoid areas with concentrations of whales.
A ferry captain and an engineer will look for the whales with onboard equipment that will enable them to see whales or sealife at night, Garabaldi said.
And they will be joined by two whale watch personnel with similar equipment, he said.
Elaine Dunbar accused Garabaldi of not being forthright, when he said at first the EIS could kill the project, then saying the EIS could hurt investors and now saying the EIS will stall the ferry launch.
Garabaldi has said he was under no obligation to appear at a Kaua‘i County Council meeting on the project, but did so because he wanted to get the word out on the venture in the most forthright manner possible.
But Dunbar said the responses from he and other Superferry representatives have been misleading and deceptive.
Dunbar and Kaua‘i resident Jeff Chandler also voiced concerns the ferry will open the doorway for more drug trafficking and drug use on Kaua‘i.
But Sharon Pomroy of Kaua‘i said drugs have been a part of everyday living on Kaua‘i long before the concept of the Superferry was born.
Anne Thurston of Princeville said she was horrified to hear an EIS has not been done, considering the size of the business venture.
Rupert Rowe, a kanaka maoli, representing the indigenous people, said government ignored the will of the people.
Ka‘iulani Huff, who is part kanaka, said the harbors sit on stolen “crown lands” and that it was up to the de facto government — the state of Hawai‘i — to protect the resources.
Supporters of the bill also criticized Gov. Linda Lingle for not accepting a 6,000-signature petition asking for an EIS. No known state officials were at the meeting, and no explanation was offered.
Also attending the meeting were Kaua‘i County Council chairman Kaipo Asing, who read a council-approved resolution introduced by councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura that asked for an EIS, and councilmembers Jay Furfaro and Tim Bynum.
• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or email@example.com.