Hawaii Superferry Founders on Court's Environmental Ruling

HONOLULU, Hawaii, August 24, 2007 (ENS) - Days before the brand new Hawaii Superferry was set to launch its inter-island service, a state Supreme Court judge has granted environmentalists the object of their lawsuit - an environmental impact assessment.

The court decided that the state Department of Transporation must conduct an environmental assessment of improvements at Kahului Harbor on Maui that were done to allow the Superferry to dock there. The ruling reverses the July 2005 judgment of a lower court that no such assessment was necessary.

The three plaintiff environmental groups from Maui are now seeking an injunction to stop the Superferry until the environmental assessment is completed, a process that could take six months to a year.

The Superferry was set to start service next Tuesday, but management says now that it will move up the date of first sailing to Sunday and open with a special $5 fare for voyages between the islands of Maui and Oahu and Kauai and Oahu through September 5. Customers who have already purchased tickets for travel between August 28 - September 5, will be refunded and offered the special fare.

"Hawaii Superferry is ready to go!" said Hawaii Superferry President and CEO John Garibaldi.

But Isaac Hall, the Maui attorney for the environmental groups that sued the Superferry, said he will file for an injunction Monday morning to stop the ferry service and said the company's move to launch service Sunday "shows they are acting in bad faith."

"Just because they start one day doesn't mean they get to defeat the purpose of an environmental statute," he said.

Hall argues that the ferry will travel through marine sanctuaries with endangered species such as humpback whales and an assessment should cover potential harms to the whales. It should also cover the possible spread of invasive plan species from one island to another, and the issue of increasing traffic congestion, he said.

The company says it has already done everything that needs to be done to launch the service. "For more than three years, Hawaii Superferry has met all the requirements of the state Department of Transportation, including provisions pertaining to environmental review. The company complied with, and in many instances, exceeded Hawaii and Federal environmental regulations," the company said in a statement Thursday.

"The same careful attention to regulatory compliance and overall responsiveness has been applied to the protection of whales, safety and security issues, community and harbor users, prevention of the spread of invasive species, and traffic management," the company said, noting the complaints of the environmental groups.

A bill in the state Legislature that would have mandated an environmental assessment passed the Senate but failed in the House on the grounds that it was unfair to make the Superferry do an assessment when other interisland carriers did not have to do the same.

The Superferry can carry more than 850 people and 250 vehicles, although management expects an average load to be about half those numbers. Find out more at: http://www.hawaiisuperferry.com/

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