Hawaii Supreme Court docks Superferry

Chris Rizo Mar. 17, 2009, 4:12am

HONOLULU, Hawaii (Legal Newsline)-A state law that allowed the Hawaii Superferry to operate while an environmental impact statement was being conducted has been declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.

The high court's ruling Monday forced the 836-passenger, 200-vehicle Hawaii Superferry to suspend its Honolulu-to-Kahului service.

The majority of justices sided with the Sierra Club, Maui Tomorrow and the Kahului Harbor Coalition, which argued that the law was narrowly tailored to apply to one company. The law is known as Act 2.

The Supreme Court in August 2007 ordered state officials to conduct an environmental study of the ferry's impact on state harbors before it could operate. Responding to the court, the state Legislature passed Act 2 in a special session in October 2007.

The bill, signed into law by Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, allowed the ferry Alakai to resume operations between Oahu and Maui that December.

In a statement, the Hawaii Superferry said it was disappointed with the court's decision.

"We have operated on a regular, reliable and responsible basis for the past 11 months," the company said. "During this time over 250,000 people have booked travel on Alakai and it has provided new economic opportunities for Hawaii's businesses."

The majority opinion was held by Associate Justice James Duffy Jr., Associate Justice Simeon Acoba, Jr. and First Circuit Court Judge Michael Town, who was filling the vacancy left by Associate Justice Steven Levinson, who retired.

Chief Justice Ronald T. Y. Moon and Associate Justice Paula Nakayama concurred in part and dissented in part.

The Pacific Whale Foundation hailed Monday's decision as a win for Hawaii's environment.

"Hawaii Superferry is a business like any other business. Our objection is not to the business model of Hawaii Superferry, but to the fact that Act 2 was written specifically to allow a specific business -- the Hawaii Superferry -- to circumvent Hawaii's environmental laws," said foundation President Greg Kaufman. "Justice has prevailed here on behalf of Hawaii's environment."

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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