As any thinking person would have predicted, the newly released draft EIS for the Hawaii Superferry has determined that the big boat is likely to cause some significant direct and indirect impacts on the Islands.
It also comes as no surprise that these impacts are the same ones that opponents have been citing all along: invasive species, traffic, depletion of resources, whale collisions, harbor congestion, degraded cultural resources, worsened air quality.
But as those who are familiar with the EIS process know, it is not the finding of impacts that matters. They are almost always identified, except by the military, which consistently maintains that blowing stuff up, building big weapons systems and carrying out live fire training exercises results in no environmental, social or cultural impacts at all.
What really matters is the mitigation, and after 20+ years, I haven’t yet run into an EIS that has identified impacts that it claims can’t be mitigated.
And sure enough, if you start reading the EIS right here, you’ll begin encountering words like “temporary” and “not significantly” and “minimal” and “unlikely.” Before you know it you’ll be thinking like a consultant: hey, no worries, all those impacts are no big deal.
Well, unless you’re a Maui fisherman or surfer or canoe paddler who uses the West Kahului Harbor area, where plans to build a new pier for the ferry would wipe out two surf spots and disrupt generations of traditional fishing practices. But if HSF keeps on using the same berthing area it has been, no problem! (Ummm, unless a north swell is breaking….)
And so what if the view from the Big Island’s Pu`ukohola Heiau National Historic Park is ruined by pier construction. Heck, they can always “use paint to soften the visual effects of sheds and storage buildings.” And if the pile drilling and blasting threaten to harm the rock structure, don’t give it a second thought: “alternative methods would be considered.”
Oh, and don’t fret about military vehicles spreading depleted uranium; exposure to DU is “highly unlikely.” Why? Because “the Army doesn’t use such weapons in Hawaii” — at least, not anymore. Never mind that DU has been found at Pohakuloa and Schofield, and the Army hasn’t finished its study of whether that deadly stuff has spread.
Traffic jams? Shoots, putting a signal at the intersection of Nawiliwili Road/Rice Street/Kailikea will solve that problem in a jiffy. And if the traffic flows gets degraded below acceptable levels, well, that will be due not to the ferry “but rather regional growth of the area.”
When it comes to biological impacts, take heart: it appears from “casual observation” that all the whales struck by boats in the previous 22 collisions in Hawaii survived the impact. Besides, HSF is already doing its whale avoidance thing, and the noise it generates is not likely to “induce trauma,” although it “may cause masking of acoustic cues or acoustically-induced stress.” Meanwhile, the risk of a collision with a monk seal or sea turtle “is considered minimal.”
Granted, invasive species are a significant problem, but again, no need to fret. The ferry “represents only a small fraction of the overall risk” of spreading pests around the state, even though vehicles transported on the boat “do represent a novel pathway for inter-island dispersal of invasive species.” Still, posting some signs warning passengers about prohibited items, conducting random baggage checks and not rushing the inspectors should do the trick. Oh, and don’t forget to train the inspectors and consistently and thoroughly question the passengers.
As for the emissions from those four main diesel engines and three diesel-powered electric generator engines, hey, minor! Besides, cruise ships are way worse, you know.
So yes, the ferry will cause major impacts, but there’s no cause for alarm, because luckily, they can all be mitigated. Now everybody just settle down and go back to sleep. DOT, HSF and Belt Collins will take care of everything.
Besides, we're not talking about Hawaii Superferry, anyway, but a generic, run-of-the-mill statewide large capacity inter-island ferry.