Hawaii Superferry will be able to go ahead with its July launch without facing an environmental review.
Legislation that would have forced the state to complete a study of the interisland ferry service's impact on harbors technically died when it failed to meet a procedural deadline late last week.
The bill's demise allays the fears of those who thought the review could have gotten in the way of the ferry service's launch between Oahu, Kauai and Maui in July. But environmentalists and lawmakers who supported the bill were disappointed.
The House Transportation Committee would have needed to support the bill for it to survive, but its chairman Rep. Joseph Souki said in commentary to The Honolulu Advertiser that it isn't fair to single out Hawaii Superferry after the state Department of Transportation already told them it was not required.
The department had ruled that Superferry qualified for an exception from an environmental review, noting that other harbor users, including shippers Matson Navigation Co. and Young Brothers Ltd., were not subject to reviews when expanding operations.
"There are other companies that use our harbors, travel in our waters, and essentially impact the state in the same manner," wrote Souki, the Advertiser reported Thursday. "Some carry only passengers, some only cargo such as cars, and some carry produce and other products, including cattle, nursery plants, and other animal and plant life that have the potential of carrying invasive species.
"Some of these companies have been doing business throughout the Islands for close to a century. However, not one of them was required to do an EIS under existing law," he said.
While Souki's position on the bill requiring a review for Hawaii Superferry was well known among those at the capitol, lawmakers supporting the legislation had hoped public pressure might change the bill's fate.
Environmentalists have said the Superferry system, which would transport both people and their cars between the islands, has the potential to increase harbor traffic, spread of invasive species and hurt humpback whale strikes. The islands do not now have a ferry system.
Each of the 349-foot aluminum Superferry ships can carry up to 866 passengers, plus trucks and cars.
Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser said neighbor island senators who supported the bill did so because that's what their communities wanted and what they felt was right.
"Somehow, I don't believe this whole thing is over with," said Hooser.