Momentum grows at Capitol to bring Superferry back to Hawaii

Sen. Fred Hemmings
Sen. Fred Hemmings
Senate president Colleen Hanabusa
Senate president Colleen Hanabusa

By Leland Kim - bio | email

HAWAII STATE CAPITOL (KHNL) - A plan to bring back the Superferry gains steam at the Hawaii state legislature. Lawmakers are looking at several ideas that could potentially bring the high-capacity ferry service back to our waters.

The first idea was started by former Hawaii attorney general Michael Lilly, and the idea is changing our environmental laws to eliminate secondary impact considerations. The plan to bring the Alakai right back to Pier 19 is gaining momentum at the Hawaii state Capitol.

A plan to rescue the Hawaii Superferry is underway. Sen. Fred Hemmings (R-Lanikai, Waimanalo and Hawaii Kai) says there's a chance a bill can be passed this session that could open the doors for the ferry service to come back.

"It's extremely feasible," he said. "The legislature makes the laws for the state of Hawaii and we can amend the laws, and even this late stage of the legislative process, there's ways to amend bills to include clarifying environmental protection laws."

The plan would eliminate secondary impact considerations during an environmental review process. Environmental groups say the laws are necessary, but Sen. Hemmings disagrees.

"A reasonable law, the environmental protection act, has been prostituted by extremists: extreme environmentalists and extreme legislators who have jumped on that bandwagon," he said.

Senate president Colleen Hanabusa (D-Nanakuli, Makaha) says a task force is looking into Hawaii's environmental laws to see if they need to be updated.

"And let us be clear: the legal challenge was on Kahului only," she said. "So technically the Superferry could operate from Oahu to Kauai, from Oahu to the Big Island."

Sen. Hemmings says bringing the Superferry back is important for Hawaii's international reputation.

"People came up to me, legislators from around the country, leaders, and they were shaking their heads," he said. "They can't believe Hawaii would turn a ferry away. You're an island state; you don't have a ferry? What are you guys thinking out there?"

The senate president thinks the Alakai would come back if the financial incentives are still there.

"I think when it becomes lucrative for the Superferry, like any other business, they will be back," she said. "And I'd like to think they would be back, too."

Senate president Hanabusa also says there's another fix for the Superferry to come back. They could swap out the Alakai for the other catamaran that was recently built. It has a built in ramp on the boat, which means, like Matson or Young Brothers, it would not need to go through an environmental review process because it does not use harbor improvements.