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Rough waters for Hawaiian ferry

Ticket sales for today's start are brisk, but legal woes could halt service.

August 26, 2007|From the Associated Press

HONOLULU — Hawaii's only passenger ferry between the islands embarks on a rushed launch today, but legal problems could quickly immobilize it.

The Hawaii Superferry moved up its maiden voyage by two days and offered discounted $5 trips from Oahu to Maui and Kauai after the Hawaii Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday that an environmental review should have been required before it could start service.

Tickets for the first round-trip voyage to Maui sold out within 30 minutes Saturday, and more than 19,000 seats were sold in the promotion's first 10 hours, company officials said. "Demand for these tours and rides has been phenomenal," said Superferry's president and chief executive, John L. Garibaldi.

Environmentalists worry that the Superferry, which will carry as many as 500 passengers and 150 vehicles on its initial voyages, could hit humpback whales, spread invasive species and create traffic delays.

Their attorney, Isaac Hall, said he would seek an injunction Monday from a Maui judge to prevent the Superferry from sailing until environmental studies were completed. Environmental reviews are typically required of projects that use state money and land, and they can sometimes take years to complete.

"Before they set sail, there should be a proper environmental assessment, with public participation and review and comment, and none of that was done," said Ron Sturtz of Maui Tomorrow, one of three groups that filed the lawsuit.

State officials, who according to the Supreme Court erred in 2005 when they exempted the Superferry from the environmental review, scurried this weekend to prepare harbors for its arrival.

On Maui, intersections were being reconfigured and turn lanes added after a separate judgment this week ordered modifications to ease traffic. Police officers must also be posted to direct traffic during ferry operations.

Hawaii transportation officials said they would allow the Superferry to start service because the Supreme Court didn't explicitly say the ship couldn't run.

However, state law prohibits projects from operating during formal environmental studies of their potential impacts, Hall said.

The four-story, catamaran-style blue-and-white ferry has been tested at sea and toured by more than 16,000 people. A second ferry being built in Mobile, Ala., is scheduled to begin serving the Big Island in 2009. Together, the two ferries cost $190 million.

One-way fares will be $5 per passenger and $5 per vehicle through Sept. 5.

Normal one-way fares will start at $52 plus a fuel surcharge and taxes. It will cost an additional $59 to $69 to bring a car, and more to bring a pickup or van.

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