By Leland Kim
MAUI (KHNL) -- In a drawn out legal battle between environmental groups on one side, and the Superferry and the state of Hawaii on the opposing side, Maui circuit court judge Joseph Cardoza hands the Superferry's owners another major setback. He denied their motion to dissolve a temporary restraining order, which for now, prevents the ship from operating on Maui.
But the company had actually been sailing in rough waters even before it began service.
Last Thursday, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled the state should have required the Superferry to conduct an environmental study. The ferry set sail on Sunday, two days before its planned launch date. When it arrived on Kauai, protestors swarmed the Alakai and its passengers.
On Monday, a judge ordered the ferry to stop sailing to Maui until an environmental assessment is completed. Tuesday, the governor asked the Superferry to temporarily suspend service to Kauai as a safety precaution. And, Superferry officials complied, agreeing to stop service to Kauai indefinitely, because the U.S. Coast Guard could not guarantee them safe passage to Nawiliwili Harbor.
And, that brings us to Wednesday's events on Maui. Lawyers on both sides appeared before a Judge Cardoza to decide the 340-foot vessel's fate.
The Superferry's pier at Kahului Harbor was quiet Wednesday morning, with services temporarily halted by a temporary restraining order.
With the ship's fate in the hands of a Maui judge, it was the talk of town in Wailuku.
"I think it's awesome as a business owner to have as many people on our islands as much as possible with the Superferry," said Irene Cregan Smith, a Wailuku shop owner. "They're not taking over the island; they're here for a trip."
At stake is this pier and whether or not the Superferry can dock here. Proponents on both sides believe they are right, but the legal battle comes down to this latest court decision.
Wednesday afternoon, Judge Cardoza heard arguments from both sides. He denied the Superferry's motion to dissolve a temporary restraining order.
"He seems to take into effect the factors that we're concerned about: that they started early, that they knew about the law going into effect when they started early. So we're happy," said Isaac Hall, the environmental groups' attorney.
There was a second motion to enforce judgment, which is basically a motion to stop the Superferry until an environmental assessment is completed. Judge Cardoza did not rule on that. Instead it will proceed to a hearing, which starts next week.
"I think that would be excellent because more thought need to be put into it," said Bonnie Moureau, a Wailuku resident.
"I think some people should be up in arms," said Rosemary Stark, a Wailea resident. "You know there's enough about Native Hawaiians up in arms, but what about the regular people up in arms? There's a lot of politics involved."
Politics, law, and business intertwined in this interisland legal battle.
The hearing starts on the morning of September 6, and could last through September 11. Until a decision is made, the Superferry agreed to comply with the temporary restraining order.
But the Hawaii Superferry said they're not about to give up the fight.
"There have been obstacles over the years, we've always fought ahead," said John Garibaldi, the Superferry's chief executive officer. "I think it's the commitment this company has to provide alternative means of transportation. It's unfortunate there are other groups out there that are really denying the people, the residents of our state, an alternative and we're committed to have that happen."