Audit: Hawaii still paying (a lot) for defunct Superferry

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii Superferry stopped operations in March 2009, but that didn't mean Hawaii stopped paying for it.

A new report from the state auditor says the cost incurred to the state for support of Hawaii Superferry operations will continue through 2028.

The total price tag: $71 million.

Hawaii still has some $32.6 million of that left to pay.

"From today to 2028, the state is obligated to pay $32.6 million for the money that they borrowed," said state Auditor Les Kondo.

The audit, released Wednesday, said the state issued about $38 million in 20-year general obligation bonds to finance barges and ramps for Honolulu, Kahului, and Kawaihae harbors, as well as a fixed ramp for Nawiliwili Harbor in 2008.

From fiscal years 2007 to 2028, the state will have paid over $62 million in principal and interest for the bonds.

Other costs incurred to the state for the Superferry include tug service in 2008 and 2009, the transportation of barge- and ramp-systems after Superferry operations shut down, and other wharf and land improvements.

The Hawaii Superferry kicked off service in 2007, but was forced to stop operations in March 2009 and file for bankruptcy protection after a state Supreme Court decision ruled unconstitutional a law that allowed it to operate without a required full environmental study.

The audit comes as the state considers the feasibility of re-launching a high-speed ferry service. In 2016, the state Legislature appropriated $50,000 to study the feasibility of establishing a ferry system. The state also got $500,000 in federal funds for the study.

Supporters said a new ferry service would have to comply with all environmental and regulatory reviews.

"It's disappointing to see that the state gave all of this money to support this particular ferry project and it still couldn't succeed financially," said Marti Townsend, director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii.

"I think that's something that decision makers have to take into serious consideration if they consider any future ferry proposals."

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