Why I Support a Ferry EIS

In two evenings of protest, demonstrators and activists on Kauai blocked the channel of Nawiliwili harbor, forcing the ferry to turn around without docking. This is the culmination of months of efforts to force the so-called Hawaii “super” ferry to perform an environmental impact statement (EIS), during which time grass-roots activism on Kauai and Maui has been steam-rolled by the state government on Oahu. As you can tell from my previous post, I am against the ferry operations as they have been implemented, and so I joined the protesters.

Here is a brief history of the issue, as I understand it.

When a certain group of mainland investors formed the idea of providing ferry service in Hawaii, they naturally went to the state government and asked for money. The ferry will bring jobs (and campaign money) if the state will provide the infrastructure, they probably said. The only obstacle is that the ferry is a threat to sea creatures and it will export Oahu’s problems (drugs, crime, overcrowding, overuse of natural resources) to the neighbor islands. The county councils on Maui, the Big Island, and Kauai passed resolutions asking the state to require and EIS. No problem, said the Republican governor, my administration can exempt the ferry from that pesky EIS, and the 80% of state-wide electors who live on Oahu will love me for giving them a weekend get-away.

So the state of Hawaii spent a minimal amount (I’m not sure of the exact number) to retrofit ferry terminals on Oahu and Kauai, but the port on Maui needed upgrades and changes, so that one cost $40 million. In the meantime, environmentalists and activists on Kauai and Maui started realizing the potential impact of the ferry. After a hard year of lobbying, their state legislators (senators and representatives) finally heard their plea and introduced bills requiring the EIS before operations could begin.

Since an EIS would be a statewide study in this case, with many, many issues, it would certainly delay the project, which would scare the investors and lose the deal. Though the neighbor island legislators were powerful, and the local activists gave testimony in record numbers (again, see my previous post), the bills were killed through procedural tactics by some key allies of the governor. In desperation, the proposed bills were modified to allow operations to begin while the EIS was being conducted, but even that was rejected.

So the ferry corporation began its public relations campaign, creating anticipation for the ferry with full-page ads in all the newspapers, but only giving lip service to the environmental concerns. Activists on Maui took their case to the courts, arguing that state laws does not allow the governor’s administration to exempt such a project from an EIS. But in the meantime, the ferry was built, shipped to the islands, and paraded around (though its first visit to Kauai was unannounced—were they expecting opposition?). Then the company delayed announcing any specific launch date, it wasn’t until August 11 that they announced online reservations for service originally planned to start today (Tuesday, August 28). In the meantime, the ferry made it’s first official visit to Kauai on August 19 for a viewing, which oddly required participants to register names and show IDs.

Last Thursday, the lawsuit on Maui was unexpectedly heard by the state Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled that the governor’s administration was wrong and that an EIS is required by state law (Honolulu Advertiser article). They sent the case back to a Maui judge who would then need to issue the ensuing injunction, ordering operations to stop until the EIS would be completed. The Maui court was scheduled to reconvene Monday to issue the ruling before the ferry began operations.

In an arrogant move, the ferry corporation announced on Friday that it would begin operations on Sunday, in defiance of the supreme court’s ruling (AP article that appeared in the Garden Island on Saturday). In order to fill the ferry on such short notice and create some buzz, they announced $5 fares until September 5 and it worked—nearly all trips to Maui and Kauai were sold out.

Word immediately got out on the coconut-wireless, through email lists and websites, that everyone wanting to oppose the arrival of the ferry without an EIS should meet at the port on Sunday. In a way, I feel that a vague malaise about the original, scheduled arrival on Tuesday was concentrated into real action to oppose the advanced (and probably illegal) arrival on Sunday. I read on the news that only a dozen people protested the arrival of the ferry on Maui, and I was determined to help increase the number on Kauai.

For more arguments and background into the ferry and its opponents, see hui-r.info and IslandBreath.org.

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