Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Musings: Light in the Dark

It was dark, dark, dark when I started on my walk this morning, but slowly, orange-gold light appeared, briefly brightening the sky, which then turned gray, awaiting sunrise.

I’m often struck by how things aren’t always as they appear in that half-light of pre-dawn. A white mailbox seems, at a distance, to be a person in a pale tee-shirt; a rotting tree stump looks like a dog cowering beside the road.

I feel we’re in that gray time right now as Gov. Lingle and the Lege continue their closed-door consultations on how to "save the Superferry.”

As one astute reader notes: “I have yet to see ‘to help save outer islands’ or ‘to help save our laws’ or ‘to help save the constitution.’”

Nope, right now it’s all about the Superferry. I found it interesting that even though lawmakers appear ready to endorse the newest draft legislation, Superferry officials are “still talking” and haven’t yet signed on to the deal that Lingle already said must meet their approval, according to a report in this morning’s Advertiser.

And now, rather than public hearings, they’re talking about holding “informational briefings” on the Neighbor Islands prior to a special session. Kauai already endured one of those “informational briefings” when Lingle came to talk about the security zone provisions, and let me tell you, they are not an effective means of communicating with the public, nor are they at all conducive to dialog. The last thing Neighbor Islanders want to hear is yet more rhetoric about what’s going to be done to us through yet another done deal.

Why not just release the draft bills as they’re being discussed so we can all follow the process of wheeling and dealing and see whether any progress is being made in responding to the concerns of dissenting lawmakers and the public? What is the justification for all this secrecy?

Where is the logic behind giving the Lingle the power to set environmental conditions for the ferry’s operation? Some lawmakers have said that would make her accountable if the conditions are slack, but why wait? Why not hold her accountable right now? After all, it was her administration that saw no reason to conduct an EA in the first place.

And that brings me to the million-dollar question: Why have Lingle and the Superferry resisted an environmental review so strenuously?

It can’t be the cost, because the state, for reasons unknown, is paying to conduct the assessment, rather than Superferry. Besides, the legal fees and lost operating revenues surely must by now rival the price tag of an EA.

We know it wasn’t to get the maritime loan guarantees, either, as Superferry officials originally claimed, because as I point out in my Honolulu Weekly "Unstoppable?" article, the feds thought an EIS should be done until the state said none was needed.

Is it the military link? Much has been said about this issue in both Larry Geller’s blog and an interesting little You Tube video.

Again, on this issue there appears to be some Superferry double-speak going on. As Larry’s blog notes, Superferry admitted in its PUC application that the vessel could be chartered to transport military troops, and officials said in a Pacific Business News article that one of three key points of Superferry's business plan is to “seek defense business, hauling vehicles between islands at night for military exercises.”

Yet when the Lege was considering during the last session a bill that would have required an EIS, and the issue of military transport came up, Superferry downplayed the connection. Sen. Gary Hooser gave me this comment for an article I published back then in Honolulu Weekly: Super Ferry officials acknowledge they “have had discussions with the military in the past, but there’s no contract at this time, and no current negotiations, according to what they’ve told me in writing.”

So which is it? Is the military a part of their business plan or not? But even if it is, why are they reluctant to ‘fess up? It isn’t as if anything linked to the military is doomed to failure in Hawaii, which gets an awful lot of butter for its bread from Sen. Inouye’s defense appropriations. As Ian Lind points out, there are a few discrepancies in Inouye’s reported role in this, too.

What, then, is Superferry trying to hide? Even if they were to go through the EIS process and impacts were identified, that alone would not scuttle the project. I’ve been reading EI statements for years and have yet to encounter one with impacts that couldn’t be mitigated.

Why aren’t more of our legislators concerned about all these unanswered questions? Or do they know more than we do? Let’s bring this whole mess out of the darkness, and into the light.


Keoua said...

Good blog, Joan. You raise lots of interessting questions. If only we had a few answers. In regard to your last question, why aren't more of the legislators concerned about getting answers, I'm afraid that they don't give a damn. Their constituents want the ferry and they are determined to deliver. I'm also afraid that that will be the bottom line. Keoua

Anonymous said...

Hi Joan,
Thanks for the thought provoking questions. I am wondering if the super ferry's resistance to an EIS has anything to do with revealing too many details about the military?

Anonymous said...

You've made some interesting points Joan. First off, I have been on some of these fast ferries and they're violent, scary things and this one is even faster!

I know zip about how these military deals get done but we are hearing plenty about privatization of military duties (Think Blackwater and think BIG bucks and very little accountability= no EIS?). Ole Dan Rather did a piece yesterday on that HD program he has. He interviewed a fellow, who knew plenty about private contractors in Iraq and around the world and it gets scary fast. It's a dangerious world. He also talked about how these guys love this work, their buddy thing, the money, and how they believe this is their calling. I know this is getting too far afield but I keep racking my brain about this big fast boat and why no EIS and the tight political military and defense contractor connections. Why is the Gov sticking her neck out like this? Or is the Public just interested in getting off island so she thinks it's easy to just slide this on by? But then one rep wrote he has 5600 or con who knows? So it's not sliding too smoothly.Then there is the DU weapons thing? As they say, follow the money and the military has plenty to spend. Did an offshore bank put up some funds for this boat? Life is cozy down there in the biyou and they sure like their boats. MauiKai