Superferry taking steps for a Kaua‘i return

As we reach the one-year mark of no Superferry service to Kaua‘i, today’s edition, in part, will revisit the issue and look at where the process lies. Look to Monday’s edition for further coverage of Superferry-related events.

The “battle of the Superferry” has played in the greater media off-island as the struggle for the soul of Kaua‘i. Not long ago the Los Angeles Times included a quote in an article on the subject about a Kaua‘i resident wanting to “crack jaws” related to frustrations of heavy tourism on the island. The frustration was expressed in an article claiming the ferry would make crowding issues worse.

A year ago we were a very different island.

The protesters gathered in August 2007 did so at a vibrant Kalapaki/Nawiliwili business center surrounded by cruise ships, tourist shops and a visitor industry still able to operate with the price of fuel. Aloha Airlines and ATA still existed. Kaua‘i bristled with commerce and higher rates of traffic then, with a stronger tourism base.

The protesters gathered to fight traffic and invasive species. Traffic is down, but it is not because the Superferry didn’t come. Remember the traffic was here already.

Aloha Visitor Center was not an empty shell. All those who remember the protests remember being lost in the bustle of the port. As events mark the anniversary of the 2007 protests today, it will be more obvious how there is less bustle in Kalapaki.

Who can deny Hawaii Superferry helped cause the public relations nightmare it is in? On Aug. 26, 2007, the “Alakai” set sail despite a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling stating an environmental assessment should have been required for port facilities. The ferry set sail because the decision did not technically say the company could not operate. When Hawaii Superferry pulled the shrewd move of offering $5 tickets that were snapped up by 50,000 people forming a de facto support base, it enraged non-supporters that much more. The company gambled and lost the PR battle.

But in the battle to adhere to the state’s evolving environmental assessment process, the company is making strides. The argument from the beginning was nothing more than wanting the company to adhere to the process.

Now, a year later — after a Maui judge halted service in October of 2007, and an October Special Session of the state Legislature allowed service to continue as an Environmental Assessment is conducted — with Belt Collins, the company contracted to carry out the Environmental Impact Statement well into its work, is Kaua‘i ready for a return of the Superferry?

The survival of our island’s residents has gone up a notch or two on the priority list over the last year. Unemployment is up, income is down and prices are rising. Will a return of service help ease any of those issues? We may get a chance to find out after the company is claiming a plan to come back after the EIS is complete in the spring of 2009. Is that not what people are concerned about? An EIS?

As Hawaii Superferry learns from its mistakes and attempts to recover from its PR blunder, will the people of Kaua‘i forgive them? From the comments of island leaders in today’s front page article, it seems a possibility.

There will always be those who want no return of service and will equate the Superferry with a killing machine and anyone who gets near one a stormtrooper of corporate greed, but maybe, just maybe, it will lift some economic burden. If the environmental conditions are met, there should be no reason we can not find out.

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