It’s fitting that the papers today — at least, the Maui and Honolulu ones — are all abuzz with news of the final state auditor’s report on Hawaii Superferry — just as the state Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in a case challenging the constitutionality of Act 2.
And interestingly enough, state auditor Marion Higa is especially critical of Act 2 — the law adopted in a special session to let the ferry run — for all the reasons that have been raised by its opponents. She notes in the summary:
We also found that the legislation on behalf of Hawai'i Superferry compromised
the State’s environmental laws and set a worrisome precedent for future
government accommodation that puts the interests of a single business
before the State’s environmental, fiduciary, and public safety responsibilities."
Higa provides the detailed rationale for her criticism of Act 2 on page 28 of the report (and hat tip to Dick Mayer for finding all the juicy bits):
….Act 2 undermines the State’s environmental policy and review process as it relates to large-capacity ferry services and ferry vessel companies and substitutes a negotiated environmental review process tailored to the Hawai'i Superferry Inc. It muffles the EIS law by insulating significant elements of the Hawai'i Superferry Inc. operation from any required environmental review under Chapter 343, HRS.
Higa also lays bare the shibai that the law wasn’t drafted solely to benefit HSF:
Because Hawai'i Superferry Inc. is the only ferry vessel company able to take advantage of the small window of time created by Act 2, it appears that the legislation was designed to benefit a single operator.
She then raps the Lege and goes right to the gist of this whole sordid mess:
While it is within the Legislature’s authority to amend laws in response to judicial decisions, it is questionable policy-making to suspend current environmental laws for a 15- to 16-month period to enable “large capacity ferry vessels” to operate under a temporary law. Once the window is closed, Chapter 343, HRS, will go back into effect for ferry operators. In the end, Act 2 enabled the Hawai'i Superferry Inc. to enter the market without having to meet the initial requirements of addressing its operational impacts on the environment set forth in Chapter 343, HRS, and reinforced by the state Supreme Court."
Higa also focuses in on the state harbor expenditures to accommodate the ferry in an assessment that reflects poorly on the Lingle Administration:
State officials ignored
the recommendations of their technical staff, setting off a chain of events that
culminated in the selection of inadequate harbor improvement systems.
Saddled with a deadline imposed by Hawai'i Superferry and supported by
administration officials, DOT technical staff implemented the only harbor
improvement system that could meet their time horizon, a combination of barges
and ramps, which was not their preferred choice.
The state-funded $38.5 million
harbor improvement system has proved to be problematic, best exemplified by
Kahului Harbor’s barge, which is continually battered by high winds and waves.
Not only have the barge and pier incurred more than $3 million in damages (the
liability of which has yet to be determined), the barge also requires the services of
a tug boat to secure it to the pier during ferry operations. Like the barge and pier
damage, responsibility for this significant extra expense has yet to be determined.
But the State has a larger and more expensive challenge over the horizon. Last
summer, Hawai'i Superferry officials announced that they will be outfitting their
second ship with an onboard ramp, a feature that eliminates the need for the $10
million barge-and-ramp system at Kawaihae Harbor and the $2.5 million ramp at
Nawiliwili Harbor, both built to accommodate Hawai'i Superferry and no other
users. If company officials choose to retrofit their first ship, the Alakai, with
a loading ramp, the State’s entire $38.5 million barge-and-ramp system would
quickly become unnecessary. Because the barges were designed specifically for
Hawai'i Superferry use, they cannot be repurposed in their present configuration
by other harbor users. In addition, since they were built in China and are therefore
prohibited from transporting cargo within U.S. waters, the barges may have little
use for potential buyers. This situation would have been avoided if state officials
had required Hawai'i Superferry to carry an onboard ramp in the first place.
The Maui News reports that Higa was unaware of the Supreme Court hearing and did not time her release to coincide with it.
The Honolulu Advertiser also covered the story, reporting:
Brennon Morioka, the director of the state Department of Transportation, said in a written response to the audit that new ramps on Superferry would not render the state's barge-and-ramp system obsolete and described the finding as "an inaccurate conclusion." Superferry is repaying the state for the harbor improvements.
Morioka also claimed that Higa exceeded the scope of her audit and reminded her that the governor and the Legislature were seeking to "strike a balance between the public interest need for an alternative form of inter-island transportation and concerns for the environment."
So once again we have the Administration essentially claiming that all this circumventing and undermining was OK, because it was really in the public’s best interest, so Higa should just shut up and stop poking about in all the corners and closets.
The Star-Bulletin’s coverage focuses on the intense pressure exerted by HSF, with a subhead that reads: “A report depicts an aversion to making the company conform to legal requirements.” It goes on to state:
Hawaii Superferry made it clear: Build the ramps or the ferries are not coming to Hawaii, [state Harbors Division director Mike] Formby added. In 2004, state officials were told -- prior to the construction of the Alakai -- that a ferry with a built-in ramp would not work with the design of the boat.
Furthermore, when permanent harbor improvements, including building a new pier at Kahului Harbor, were suggested, they were shot down to meet deadlines imposed by Hawaii Superferry.
According to the report, the administration felt it could not "secure all the necessary environmental assessments for the permanent harbor improvements in time to meet Hawaii Superferry Inc.'s deadline."
Both Honolulu articles are followed by comments, but those on the S-B site are more interesting. I especially liked the one complaining that all of the auditor’s reports are “negative and damning” — and then blames that not on a repeated history of state screw ups, but the auditor’s own personal failings and “need to punish.”
Classic. Don’t finger the culprits, or hold them responsible. And please, don't tell us all this bad stuff we don't want to know. Instead, kill the messenger and keep us all in blissful ignorance.