Superferry talk surfaces

LIHUE — People are talking ferry again.

The first Hawaiian Inter-Island Ferry Conference to explore pros and cons of Hawaiian Inter-Island Ferry systems is scheduled Oct. 6 in Honolulu.

Recent online polls showing 80 percent in favor of ferry service prompted the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association, and the Master Mates and Pilots, to organize six speakers at the five-hour town hall meeting.

“This will be a chance for people to address their concerns,” said Randy Swindell, MM&P port agent. “We just want to get the discussion started and to try to get the inter-island ferry service resumed over here.”

The hurricane events are another example of the need for additional craft to quickly move equipment and resources from island to island, he said. The Superferry would also mean more jobs and create revenue for local economies— and create competition for the airlines.

“When there is no competition then the sky is the limit,” he said.

Gordon LaBedz, a member of Surfrider Kauai, said they would oppose a car ferry, “absolutely.”

“This Surfrider Foundation chapter is the only group that said we don’t want an EIS or the Superferry — EIS or not,” he said. “An EIS will just say that ‘we will do all these bad things, and then we will do this little thing to make it better.’”

Swindell said the Superferry would need to be a public-private partnership and must have the support of legislators.

“We believe that, as an island state, it is amazing that no inter-island ferry system exists,” said Christian Yuhas, a patrolman for the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association and former chief engineer for the Superferry in Oakland. “There are several smaller ferries that serve some of the smaller islands, but an inter-island ferry system has never really existed, although as we know with Sea-Flight and the Superferry, attempts were made in the past. The U.S. has many successful ferry systems in operation, but the 50th state has been left out.”

Yuhas said what helped kill the 2007 Superferry in Hawaii was skipping the Environmental Impact Statement, not addressing sea sickness and concerns about hitting whales. He said it’s important to get discussion started during this election year.

“By inviting everyone in Hawaii to participate, even people in far reaching islands can have their two cents heard,” he said.

A Honolulu Star Advertiser poll in June recorded 1,586 votes to support pursuing the return of the inter-island Superferry, including an EIS — against 230 no votes.

A 2007 poll found 64 percent voting “No Superferry at all,” with 25 percent saying “Let it sail!” The remaining 9 percent voted “No EIS, No Superferry.”

Protesters lined the Nawiliwili harbor with a line of surfers blocking the entrance, forcing the inaugural Superferry run to turn back to Oahu without docking on Aug. 26, 2007. A second attempt more than a year later was also turned back.

In 2009, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that an exemption for improvements at a Maui dock without a second complete EIS was unconstitutional. The company ended operations and eventually went bankrupt.

LaBedz said whales come to the warm waters of Hawaii during the winter months to birth. The calves remain close to the surface and cannot get out of the way of a 10-knot boat much less a 45-knot Superferry, he said.

He said he spoke to Superferry passengers on Maui who said “it was the worst trip of their lives.” The winter swells in the channels between the islands make for a very rough voyage.

Other concerns are high numbers of cars on Kauai’s roads, non-endemic species that “hitchhike” under cars and become introduced to the sensitive island ecosystem. The consequences of the county accommodating that growth is counterproductive for destroying the highly marketable charm of the island.

“Very few people will benefit on Kauai from the Superferry,” LaBedz said.

The Inter-Island Ferry Conference will be from 5 to 10 p.m. at the Pier 19 Ferry Facility. Neighbor island residents, mayors and county councils are also invited to attend or provide feedback.

To attend contact cyuhas@mebaunion.org. Hawaii residents are invited to submit a viewpoint, pro or con, by Sept. 22 to jhope@bridgedeck.org. Call 808-523-8183 for any other questions.

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Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0424 or by emailing tlaventure@thegardenisland.com.

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