IMAGE: SUPERFERRY
Dennis Fujimoto  /  Garden Island via AP file
A state government boat keeps on eye on protesting surfers, swimmers, and canoe paddlers as the Hawaii Superferry sits outside Nawiliwili Harbor on Aug. 27 in Lihue, Hawaii.
updated 10/10/2007 10:52:44 AM ET 2007-10-10T14:52:44

A judge has dealt another blow to the first passenger-vehicle ferry between major Hawaiian Islands, ruling that the service can't sail until it shows it won't harm the state's environment.

The decision threatens the survival of the $300 million service, which sailed to Maui and Kauai from Honolulu only once before legal challenges and protesters forced it to run aground.

Hawaii Superferry attorneys told the judge they planned to appeal. Company officials have said the 350-foot catamaran would leave the state if it wasn't allowed to operate until the environmental study was completed, a process that would take at least eight months, and possibly years.

A second giant ferry is about 25 percent completed in Mobile, Ala. It is intended to serve the Big Island in 2009, but its future is now also in doubt.

After a month of court hearings focusing heavily on the ferry's possible danger to whales, Maui Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza said Tuesday that state law does not allow service to Maui while the environmental assessment is being conducted, which is what Superferry had requested.

Environmentalists worried that the high-speed ferry could cause "irreparable harm" to endangered humpback whales, spread invasive species, create traffic and damage Hawaiian culture if it were allowed to cruise through the Pacific Ocean at 42 mph.

The Hawaii Supreme Court stalled the Superferry in August when it ruled that state transportation officials shouldn't have exempted the Superferry in 2005 from an environmental assessment required for projects that use state money.

Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican and strong supporter of the Superferry, said she would leave it to lawmakers to call a special session to deal with the issue.

House Speaker Calvin Say said he would discuss the issue with House members on Wednesday. Senate President Colleen Hanabusa said she planned to consult with members of the Senate later this week.

But it's unclear what kind of law could circumvent rulings by both Cardoza and the Hawaii Supreme Court requiring the environmental study.

Hawaii Superferry President John Garibaldi wouldn't comment on the company's immediate future. "Obviously, we are disappointed," Garibaldi said. "While the ruling is a loss for Hawaii Superferry and our employees, it is a greater loss for the state of Hawaii."

In the Maui courtroom packed with Superferry employees wearing their blue uniform shirts and environmentalists huddled on the opposite side, reaction Tuesday to the judge's decision was muted.

"It's a sad day for taxpayers," said Greg Kaufman, president of the Maui Pacific Whale Foundation, who testified that the boat could collide and kill humpback whales. "Because of this attempt to circumvent environmental law, here we are."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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