In a bold move Thursday, the state Environmental Council issued an opinion disagreeing with the Department of Transportation’s decision to exempt Hawaii Superferry from conducting an Environmental Impact Statement. Citing the presence of significant cumulative impacts, the council felt that a full environmental review was required by law, and should have been triggered by Hawaii Revised Statutes Chapter 343, the statute dealing with Environmental Impact Statements.
In issuing the opinion, members of the Council expressed grave concerns about the DOT’s examination of the Superferry project and harbor improvements — focusing only on individual pieces such as the floating docks and portable toilets, rather than the big picture. Chairperson Michael Faye explained that “too often, agencies aren’t addressing the cumulative impact of projects because they are presented in segments. Exemptions are then granted based on this narrow, limited view. This is clearly not what is intended by HRS Chapter 343. Projects, and their impacts, need to be examined as a whole, and we feel that this clearly was not done in the case of Hawaii Superferry.”
Echoing Chairperson Faye’s comments, council member Robert King, a long-time resident of Maui, said that “the council felt obligated to speak out because of the kind of precedent that this could set for future projects.” In addition, King states that “It was clear to me that the Superferry project should have triggered an EIS. The exemptions list was certainly not designed to provide a loophole for projects as complex, and with such significant impacts, as Hawaii Superferry.”
The council’s opinion lends strong support to SB 1276. If passed, SB 1276 would require an EIS before Hawaii Superferry could begin ferry service in July 2007 as planned. The bill moved out of two Senate committees, Transportation and International Affairs, and Energy and Environment, with strong support from legislators and the public alike. It is currently awaiting a hearing at the Ways and Means committee.
While the bill is expected to pass out of the Senate, it may run up against opposition in the House of Representatives. Rep. Joe Souki, District 8, Wailuku, Waihe‘e, Waiehu, Pu‘uohala, Waikapu, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, is on record stating he will not hear the bill.
Commenting on the council’s statement, Sen. Gary Hooser, District 7, Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau, expressed his admiration for the stand that the council had taken. “I think this council has taken a bold step in trying to ensure that the EIS laws are adhered to. It is a powerful statement for the entire state.”
• Zubin Menon submitted this opinion on behalf of Sen. Gary Hooser’s office.