Maui Superferry Ruling a Blow to Company, a Victory for Environmental Groups

Judge Joseph Cardoza
Judge Joseph Cardoza

WAILUKU, Maui (KHNL) -- After weeks of testimony on Maui, a judge on Maui rules the Hawaii Superferry must complete an environmental study before coming back to Kahului harbor. Tuesday, Judge Joseph Cardoza took a critical step in whether the Superferry ultimately stays or leaves.

Environmental groups celebrate Tuesday's ruling, while Superferry executives are left to decide if they can survive while waiting for an environmental assessment.

Judge Joseph Cardoza said Hawaii laws related to environmental protection are clear. They are for the environment, not for the economic interests of corporations. And that was the basis for his pivotal ruling today.

The ultimate fate of the 350-foot long Alakai rests on this Maui courthouse. Many on the Valley Isle eagerly waited for the ruling.

"I can see both sides of the argument," said Michelle Crompton, a Paia resident.

Inside, Judge Cardoza urged for calm and unity before handing down his verdict.

"We can have different views," he said. "We do not need to have a divided community just because we have different views."

Citing the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act, the judge rules the Superferry cannot resume operations until an environmental assessment is completed.

"I personally feel very, very disappointed for the 300 employees of Hawaii Superferry," said Hawaii Superferry CEO John Garibaldi. "They've shown a tremendous amount of support and courage during this entire process. Who I really feel very sorry for and very upset is for the people of the state of Hawaii."

The environmental groups' attorney says the state took a misstep, basically giving the Superferry a free pass.

"It should have been obvious from the very beginning that these exemptions simply don't fit," said Isaac Hall, the environmental groups' attorney. "HDOT (Hawaii Department of Transportation) and Hawaii Superferry and the state got together and wanted to exempt this project so badly that they abused the exemption process."

The state said that's not true.

"Mr. Hall wasn't at the same court in July of 2005, and at that time the judge indicated that what we had done was correct and pursuant to the law as we all understood it at the time," said Deputy Attorney General William Wynhoff.

Environmental groups said it's a victory for ocean life.

"We have really supported this court case," said Anne Rillero, communications director of the Pacific Whale Foundation. "So, the people of Maui are very much behind it and very, very happy about the decision."

Garibaldi did not say whether this means he'll pull the ship out of Hawaii. But he has said in the past that without multiple island ports, the Superferry cannot stay afloat here. His lawyers flied an appeal after the ruling.

Reaction on Maui

As you might expect word of the judge's ruling spread fast on the Valley Isle. And as you also might expect, reaction was mixed.

After four full weeks of testimony, debate on Maui ran strong as to which direction the legal pendulum would swing. In the end, those who opposed the Superferry were elated.

"I agree with it completely," said Megan Childers, a Pukalani, Maui, resident. "This place is so beautiful and so sacred that thinking economic growth is more important than keeping our land healthy is ridiculous."

"I'm so excited, not only environmentally but the massive amounts of people taking things like rocks from our land and other vital things that need to stay here," added Tammi Cadman, a Hali'i Maile, Maui, resident.

But while those opposed to the Superferry had reason to celebrate, supporters question their motives, and said the inter-island service appears to have been singled out.

"Where were these activists when it comes to all the other boats?" asked Garrett Cerizo, a Wailuku, Maui, resident. "It's not the only boat that brings trucks, dirt, frogs and other unchecked things. It's kind of silly. Everyone talks about diversifying the economy here. This is going to hurt the local commerce, local farmers and small businesses."

And while there are undoubtedly more chapters yet to be written in this Superferry saga, many are already applauding the message they say Judge Cardoza already delivered.

"Maui has to take care of itself," said Cadman. "We have to look at environmental impacts before we just go forward and look at it later. We have to look at it first then proceed."