Much was made of Hawaii Superferry carrying its 125,000th passenger - a so-called milestone for a company where "success" is operating at half capacity.
Having recently attended a Superferry Oversight Task Force meeting, I'm struck by how little about this operation is getting out to the public. Put in place as part of Act 2's special legislation, the task force operates for one year. Its findings will be reported to the Legislature early in 2009.
Information disclosed at that August meeting made it clear just what a travesty Act 2 is. Hawaii's environmental law states that an environmental assessment must be performed prior to an operation's start. If this law had been followed, many of the problems now being brought forward could have been dealt with in advance.
One critical issue is interisland spread of invasive species. A report prepared as part of the Superferry's EIS process finds an unacceptable number of muddy vehicles being allowed to board. An undercarriage pressure-wash system was originally suggested to mitigate this problem, but the suggestion was ignored. Now the study finds such a system is needed, but there is no room for it in the current operations area. Had this system been required before the operation began, space would have been provided and the system would now be in place.
Dirt on vehicles is a pathway for the spread of invasive species. This is of critical importance. The report also suggested Hawaii Superferry needs to provide a vacuum cleaner and better flashlights for their employees for more thorough inspections.
It was equally disappointing to hear Hawaii Superferry's CEO, Adm. Thomas Fargo, state that night-vision goggles, radar and "bow-mounted cameras" that might prevent collisions with humpback whales are still not ready. Members of the public told the task force in early February that the promised technology was not adequate, yet the ferry company continued to state through last year's whale season that those technologies were in place and would ensure safety for humpbacks during evening transits. Now, two months before the first whales begin arriving in Hawaiian waters, Adm. Fargo says it will take more time.
This is unacceptable in regard to a federally protected and endangered species. The only mitigation for this issue is reduced speeds of down to 10 knots per hour (11.5 miles per hour) when traveling after dark. An update is needed on Hawaii Superferry's whale avoidance plan for this winter. Will the HSF's "whale season" be abbreviated as it was last year or run concurrently with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Sanctuary's accepted November-through-May season?
The state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement's monthly report on inspections and findings at Kahului Harbor was an eye-opening litany of natural resources being taken from Maui on a regular basis. It is astonishing to have more than 400 pounds of reef fish taken from Maui waters in a one-month period, 49 pounds of opihi in one month with another 75 pounds the following month, over 250 pounds of limu in a month. How long will these natural resources remain for our community?
Greater efforts must be made to stop the plunder. DOCARE's regular reports are the only comprehensive assessment of items leaving Maui aboard the ferry.
We need continued information to make educated decisions on procedures needed, not only for Maui, but also for the Big Island as the second vessel comes on line in 2009. Yet these DOCARE officers will be pulled from inspections when the task force disbands at the end of this year.
Hawaii taxpayers deserve a document released to the public, stating the costs the Department of Transportation has incurred for this private enterprise. What has it cost the taxpayers for Ag and DOCARE staffing, the Department of Transportation lawsuits and ongoing appeals, the Oversight Task Force's yearlong operation and the preparation of an environmental impact statement, the cost of barges and tugs to assist the Alakai at Kahului Harbor and any other costs related to the operation of this ferry system?
The next meeting of the Oversight Task Force for Hawaii Superferry will be held on Maui Sept. 19 at the Kahului Harbor passenger terminal beginning at noon. If you are concerned about the ferry's impact on marine mammals, our overburdened roads, parks and beaches and especially the plunder of our natural and cultural resources, I urge you to attend this meeting and let your voice be heard.
Irene Bowie is the executive director of the Maui Tomorrow Foundation Inc., a nonprofit organization with an office in Makawao.