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Wednesday, February 24, 2016
SB2618: Should there be a Hawaii State Ferry?
By Michael Hansen @ 8:45 PM :: 3460 Views

Should there be a Hawaii State Ferry?

by Michael Hansen, Hawaii Shippers Council, February 23, 2016

The online new site Honolulu Civil Beat published an editorial on February 24, 2016 endorsing Hawaii State Senate Bill 2618 (SB 2618) that would direct and provide funds for the Hawaii State Department of Transportation (HSDOT) to conduct a Hawaii interisland ferry service feasibility study for a state owned and operated service along the lines of the Alaska State Ferry and Washington State Ferry.

The Hawaii State Committee on Transportation and Energy passed SB 2618 out of committee without amendments and it will be heard by the State Senate Committee on Ways and Means (WAM, the Senate’s financial committee) at 1:00 p.m., Thursday, February 25, 2016.

Despite the upcoming hearing before the Senate’s financial committee (i.e., WAM), the amount of general funds monies that would be appropriated by the Hawaii State Legislature in SB 2618 has not been indicated (the place to insert the money amount has been left blank).


But court challenges over environmental impact studies and protests by environmental activists ultimately doomed the Superferry, which suspended service for good in March 2009. Subsequent attempts to resurrect the service as a state-run ferry or with the backing of private investors failed, leaving “Superferry” as shorthand for a good idea gone horribly wrong through poor planning and political insensitivity.

Now comes the latest effort to explore bringing back ferry service, a deliberate first step in a process that must not get ahead of itself. Senate Bill 2618 is being advanced by lawmakers who are personally familiar with the ferry’s history and who are looking to avoid its mistakes.

The bill would require the state Department of Transportation to undertake a feasibility study of a ferry system — nothing more, nothing less. DOT would be charged with looking at public ferry services in other states, identifying appropriate routes and harbors for Hawaii ferries, examine potential costs, revenues and financing for such a service and, perhaps most politically importantly, emphasizing “compliance of an interisland ferry system with the state’s environmental protection laws…”

Attempts to resurrect the service as a state-run ferry or with the backing of private investors failed, leaving “Superferry” as shorthand for a good idea gone horribly wrong through poor planning and political insensitivity.

It’s difficult to predict whether launching a publicly owned ferry service today might be a viable idea. That’s the point, of course, of doing a feasibility study and addressing each of the issues outlined in SB2618 without any external pressure, save that of completing the study in time to present it to the Legislature in advance of the 2017 session.

But if there’s any doubt that the mere mention of the word “Superferry” conjures the controversies of 2007-09, one only need to refer to a Star-Advertiser story earlier this month that described Gov. David Ige as “moving ahead with a proposal to revive interisland ferry service.” The story incorrectly conflated Ige’s support for the feasibility study with support for resumption of service, and some of the same critics of the Superferry eight years ago surfaced right away.

The reaction was so swift that the governor’s communications director felt compelled to circulate a staff memo calling out the claim as false to tamp down concerns of those reacting to the story.

The provisions of SB2618 are not only sound, they represent the most logical way to lay those controversies to rest. The bill already has passed the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee and is scheduled to be heard and voted on Thursday afternoon by the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Chances look good for it to clear the Senate and move to the House on March 10 with other crossover bills.

Ige has already indicated his support for the measure; his director of the state Department of Transportation, Ford Fuchigami, has spoken with legislators about the importance of a solid process in considering ferry service anew. It appears increasingly likely that by this time next year, we’ll be examining the finances and environmental impacts of doing exactly that.

If ferry service is to be re-established, this is the route that stands the best chance of getting us there.

  *   *   *   *   *

HSC: Washington State Ferry unable to afford new Jones Act construction despite large subsidies


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