House Passes Superferry Bill, Questions of Invasive Species Arise

Carol Okada
Carol Okada

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- The Hawaii House of Representatives passed the original Superferry bill -- House Bill 1 -- unamended after a third reading Friday afternoon.

That House bill now goes to the Senate. And on Monday, the amended Senate bill passed by a Senate joint committee Thursday, will go to a hearing at 1:30 pm.

Once the House and the Senate agree on a bill, then it will go to a full vote, probably by the end of next week.

One of the issues brought up during the special session, and earlier in the Maui court proceedings, was the potential threat of invasive species from cars transported by the Hawaii Superferry. It's part of the conditions imposed on the Superferry in an amended bill the Senate is considering.

The Department of Agriculture said the greatest threat of invasive species doesn't originate from our Hawaiian islands, but from outside our state.

About half a million containers come to Hawaii from the mainland and foreign countries every year, and about the same amount go between the islands. But only a small percentage gets inspected by the Department of Agriculture.

"Actually very few," said Carol Okada, manager of the Plant Quarantine Branch of the Department of Agriculture. "We utilize the manifest system or manifest of what the carriers give us to determine what we need to inspect. Then we would want to prioritize that resources by going after the high risk containers rather than the sampling of undercarriage of cars."

They identify high risk containers, and most of them come from outside Hawaii. That's where pythons, alligators, baby iguanas, and other invasive species came from.

Current legislation that would require the Hawaii Superferry to have strict invasive species policies would set the standard for all other carriers.

"It exceeds what's expected of other carriers right now, and what we're trying to work with is trying to have other carriers cooperate with us," said Okada. "How the other carriers normally screen is by a paper screening, meaning they look at what's supposed to be in a container, and they go by that paper, not by visual inspection. That's where the Superferrry's different. They actually do visual screening of compartments."

But having inspectors on board every Superferry voyage would take them away from other critical duties.

"We would like to use that resources because we are limited, to put it towards watching what comes into Hawaii, not really what's going in between the islands," said Okada.

But some say, invasive species between the islands is still an important issue.

"As we know the islands are different," said Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Hawaii Sierra Club. "We actually have different species in different islands and some of those we don't want to spread to different islands. That's why we're concerned about the ease they may spread with the Superferry."

With the Superferry special session grabbing headlines, the Sierra Club believes this is the time for Hawaii to focus on our environment.

"We have an opportunity with this particular carrier to put some protections in place, and this is a new sort of interisland transit, obviously," said Mikulina. "This is the attractiveness of Superferry. Easy, roll your car on and go to a neighbor island. But the same thing that makes it easy, also makes it a bit more of a bigger problem than the existing interisland transit."

As lawmakers consider the Superferry bill, the Sierra Club hopes this is the start of greater accountability among all carriers.

"Certainly we have a lot more work to do with other interisland and vessels coming in to Hawaii," said Mikulina. "And that's another issue we need to be working on."

The Department of Agriculture hopes there's greater cooperation among the various carriers to limit the spread of invasive species. They say, again, the focus should be place on containers coming to Hawaii, since the greatest threat comes from beyond our shores.