In the latest turn of events in Hawaii’s impressive grassroots uprising against a huge corporate-military boondoggle, the state’s Supreme Court has ruled unanimously (5-0) that the Hawaii Superferry has no legal authority to continue its operations in the state, at least for the time being. But, hold the cheery encomiums and ginger-blossom bouquets; there are downsides to this story that, so far, most media have neglected. First, the good news.
The ruling struck down as “unconstitutional” a law instigated by right-wing Republican Governor Linda Lingle called Act Two, which was intended to circumvent an earlier unanimous Hawaii Supreme Court ruling (August 2007). That prior decision asserted that the giant high-speed catamaran—which races at 40 miles per hour through humpback whale calving grounds, uses 12,000 gallons of gas on a round trip between islands and may have other extremely serious environmental effects—could not begin operations without first completing a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act (HEPA). The Superferry company, however, owned by the infamous New York militarist financier John F. Lehman, former Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, advocate of a 600-ship Navy to dominate the world’s oceans and member of the neocon Project for the New American Century, said it would not comply with the 2007 decision. Governor Lingle immediately backed Lehman via her (illegal) legislative foray, which exempted the Superferry from doing an EIS under HEPA and gave faux authority for the boat to keep operating. This was the biggest of many favors she did for Lehman and the company in a campaign many critics believe was designed as much for her own future in the Republican Party as for any concerns about Hawaii. Lehman was likely to be John McCain’s chief of staff, had he won (according to a New York Times report before the election), a position that might have put Lingle in good position for national office, which she apparently craves.
And yet, after last week’s court ruling, the Superferry company showed surprisingly little desire to fight, quickly announced it would suspend all Hawaii service within three days and did. This struck some observers as out of character for such an aggressive, self-important outfit, and raised new questions about the company’s and Lehman’s intentions: What’s up now? Could it be the company actually wanted to get out? Does this confirm that the Hawaii adventure was really only a demo for bigger military options, as many suggest? We will come back to that below.
Anyway, the good news set off celebrations on the islands of Kauai and Maui, which have led the protests against the Superferry. Eighteen months earlier, on the occasion of the boat’s maiden voyage, Kauai was the site of a landmark two-day uprising, where 1,500 protesters occupied the shoreline at Nawiliwili Harbor. They shouted their demands for an EIS, as dozens of surfers leaped into the water and paddled out dangerously close to the catamaran blades of the oncoming 350-foot colossus, stopping it cold in the water. It was a convincing display of determined resistance and daring from a laid-back community not usually known for political action. The boat never came back to Kauai.
Similar joy was displayed on Maui, which had suffered the only remaining Superferry run. After cancellation of service to Kauai, and then also to the Big Island, the Honolulu-Maui-Honolulu run, once daily, was the company’s last hurrah. Three Maui groups—the Sierra Club, Maui Tomorrow and Kahului Harbor Coalition—were plaintiffs in both lawsuits that brought the Supreme Court victories. Irene Bowie of Maui Tomorrow said, “It’s unfortunate all this had to take place; I wish the state and Superferry had taken the correct action in the beginning, and followed the law.”