Thursday, April 17, 2008

Musings: Shibai Spotters

The lightning started about 8 last night, flickering in a sky that was hazy enough to hide the stars but no match for a nearing-full moon. Then the thunder rumbled in about 4 a.m., making big cracks and booms that got little Koko trembling, followed by the rain, light at first, then strong and steady, and now back to light.

I love these days most of all, when it’s quiet and still — save for drips and bird songs and the ever-present crowing — and human sounds are almost non-existent. Lulled by this melody, I fell back asleep and had a nightmare that I was driving mauka in cowboy country — maybe it was Upcountry Maui — and four-story condos obscured the mountains and cheesy strip malls with fake Western fronts dotted the landscape and tourists were swimming in covered pools adorned with murals of rodeos.

Yikes. Then I woke up to the phone and was brought back to an uneasy reality, which was reinforced by a 4 a.m. email sent from a friend:

Listening to C-Span. Its enough to make you cry. Our vetrans health care, or should I say "what healthcare". Then you have a MAD MAN, as president, running around with the Pope, thinking that some of the holyness, will rub off on him. And the Pope lives in a "home" that if they had a yard sale, they could care for most of the world. I could go throw up. WE are sheep. They tell us all this crap and we say “Oh, thank you master" And go about our lives with our heads where the sun don't shine.”

Ah yes, politics. Or should I say, shibaiatics. And since we’re on that subject, let’s take a look at the long-awaited state auditors’ report on the Lingle Administration’s decision to exempt Hawaii Superferry from the EIS process.

The crux of it is something that critics of the process — at least, those who support the rule of law — have been saying all along:

"In the end, the state may have compromised its environmental policy in favor of a private company's internal deadline," state auditor Marion Higa concluded. "It remains to be seen whether these decisions will cost the state more than its environmental policy."

What really jumped out at me was the way the performance audit underscored the disingenuous style that seems to characterize the way that HSF, which declined to participate in the audit, does business.

Here was HSF, pushing the state to move things along with a fake deadline for securing the $140 million in federal loan guarantees, when that June 2005 deadline was actually internal and tied to its agreement to pay Austal USA for the ferry construction.

As Maui’s Dick Mayer noted in an email that accompanied a link to the auditor’s report and Advertiser story:

As you read this, keep in mind that the Hawaii Superferry Company prematurely placed its order (Jan. 2004) for the construction of the 2 superferries about 14 months BEFORE they received any exemption from the EIS law.

The Advertiser, while patting itself on the back for coming to the same conclusion as the auditor, reports:

Staff in the department's harbors division had wanted to require a statewide environmental assessment of the project and to get Superferry to install a stern ramp on the vessel to give it more flexibility at Kahului Harbor on Maui. But Superferry executives, according an account by a department staffer, told the state that anything but an exemption was a deal-breaker and that they would not install any ramps.

"Decisions made: We need to pursue EXEMPTION; and HSF will not provide any ramps on vessel," one department staffer told colleagues afterward in an e-mail.

So what’s clear here is that staff members knew the right thing to do and wanted to do it, but HSF bullied them into doing what has proven to be the legally and logistically wrong thing: exempting it from the EIS process and not installing ramps on the vessel for use at Kahului.

What isn’t clear, in either the Advertiser’s crack reporting or the auditor’s report, is why the state was so susceptible to these bullying tactics and who actually made the decision to exempt.

"Current and former department officials and employees who worked on the ferry project were either unable to recall who made the decision at that meeting or chose to invoke executive privilege when asked who directed the team," the auditor found.

But it does seem there’s a bit of covering up going on, and again, one can only wonder, why?

"Ultimately, a decision involving the governor's office was made that directed the 'ferry project team' to pursue scenarios that would exempt the ferry harbor work from environmental review," the auditor found.

There’s still more coming from the auditor's office, and Mike Formby, the department's deputy director of harbors, told the Advertiser the administration wants the opportunity to review the second phase of the audit.

"I think what we wanted to do was reserve the right to see the full report, because it's really risky to look at half the report and respond knowing that they're out there still doing field investigation, interviews, reviewing documents," Formby said. "And basically, they look at the response you gave, and they go out and look for a way to rebut your response."

Or just maybe Lingle and the harbors guys didn’t want to get caught saying something that was later found to be untrue.

Finally, I heard a Westside guy on the radio make a comment yesterday about Pioneer’s claim that the smell that made the Kekaha kids sick wasn’t pesticides sprayed on their fields near the school, but vog.

“If was vog, everybody woulda been all buss up, not just the kids.”

Yes, the people know shibai when they see/hear it.

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