IMAGE: Hawaii Superferry
Marco Garcia  /  AP
A surfer catches a wave at Kakaako Waterfront Park as the Hawaii Superferry approaches Aloha Towers on June 30.
updated 11/1/2007 12:43:29 PM ET 2007-11-01T16:43:29

State lawmakers bailed out Hawaii's fast new inter-island ferry on Wednesday, voting to put it back in service despite worries that it could damage the islands' fragile environment.

The state House voted 39-11 for an emergency measure saving the Hawaii Superferry, the final obstacle in the way of the 800-passenger, 42-mph ship that has been stalled for two months by protesters and court rulings. The bill previously passed the Senate and now goes to ferry supporter Gov. Linda Lingle.

Some residents fear the ferry could collide with endangered humpback whales and destroy the tropical charm of islands, linked only by air and cargo boats. But lawmakers decided they needed to make way for the state's first passenger and vehicle alternative to air travel.

The ferry could resume service from Oahu to Maui and Kauai in about two weeks once Lingle signs the bill.

"We are one island, one state," said Rep. Joe Souki, D-Waihee-Wailuku. "The water is our highway."

The Superferry law was passed explicitly to override decisions by the Hawaii Supreme Court and a lower court that the state needed to first complete an environmental study of the vessel, a process that could have taken years.

Superferry officials threatened to leave if their ferry, a giant blue and white catamaran, couldn't quickly resume business. A second ferry under construction in Mobile, Ala., is intended to serve the Big Island in 2009.

Opponents called the legislative action illegal and wrongful.

"Once we lose what we're about to lose, we'll never get it back," said Rep. Lyla Berg, D-Hahaione Valley-Aina Haina.

The bill requests that whale observers be on the ferry, requires vehicle inspections and calls on Lingle to create additional regulations. It also opens an investigation into why the $300 million Superferry operation was granted an exception to Hawaii's environmental laws in the first place.

The state Transportation Department exempted the Superferry from an environmental review in February 2005, even though the state had spent $40 million for barges and ramps to accommodate it at four island harbors.

The Hawaii Supreme Court decided in August, five days before the boat was originally scheduled to launch, that transportation officials made a mistake and the environmental study was necessary.

The ferry company rushed into the water, moving up its launch date by three days and offering promotional $5 fares for passengers or cars. It completed only one trip each to Maui and Kauai before the service was scuttled.

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

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