Surfers vs. the Superferry
On the island of Maui, similar outrage led to a series of large if less spectacular protests. But the Maui resistance settled on legal actions from groups like the Sierra Club, Maui Tomorrow and the Kahului Harbor Coalition. It was these groups that had won the unanimous Hawaii Supreme Court ruling demanding the EIS. Everyone thought that decision would settle matters. Instead, it stimulated Lingle to demonstrate her Machiavellian chops by coercing the State Legislature (many of whose members had received Superferry largesse, as had Lingle) to pass a law theoretically circumventing the court ruling and permitting the boat to operate. It was an in-your-face move worthy of Bush/Cheney at their peak. Lingle's new law, Act Two, invented an EIS process with few features from NEPA or HEPA. The new law, for example, has no power to stop the Superferry from operating, no matter what the environmental findings. It's a fake EIS.
The Maui groups have gone back to court to charge that Act Two is unconstitutional--violating separation of powers and directly favoring a single company, among other problems. The final decision is expected any day.
Three weeks after Nawiliwili, another huge throng filled the 1,500 seats of Kauai's War Memorial Convention Hall, with many more outside, for a "public meeting" called by Governor Lingle. Imperiously she warned that she would not discuss whether there would be a Superferry--that had been decided. Her purpose was to instruct people that if they repeated their protests, they would be charged under new anti-terrorism laws that carry prison terms up to five years and/or a $10,000 fine.
Her statements were met with hoots and laughter and then a series of eloquent testimonies about protection of sacred lands (aina in Hawaiian) and sea creatures and the rights of local communities to protect themselves from invasive species and invasive corporations with militaristic intentions. Many indicated they were not opposed to a ferry if it would operate within community and environmental standards rather than those of an absentee owner with profit motives and military intentions. Others denounced Lingle's embrace of the project and its owner, suggesting she'd abandoned Hawaii for personal ambition.
Lingle's goals surely go beyond providing a useful local ferry. They certainly seemed to have far more to do with getting closer to powerful Republican Party figures--notably Lehman, slated, as the New York Times reported, to have been John McCain's chief of staff, had he won.
Throughout all this, the governor and the Superferry company denied the ferry's long-range military implications, despite earlier statements by Lehman and other executives about transporting Stryker tanks and other military services along with similar statements from the US Maritime Administration, which had issued a loan guarantee. Pacific Business News reported in March 2005 that Timothy Dick, Hawaii Superferry's original chair, confirmed that "Hawaii Superferry provided the Army with a cost analysis and expects to negotiate a long-term contract." The article also noted that "with Lehman's expertise, the Superferry plans to...carry military equipment and ferry vehicles from Oahu to the Big Island on a daily basis" and quoted Lehman saying that "the Superferry is strong enough to take Stryker vehicles."
Then in November the Superferry's manufacturer, Austal USA of Mobile, Alabama, was awarded a $1.6 billion Pentagon contract to build ten high-speed catamarans under the Navy's Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) program in preparation for possible future conflicts with China. The model that Austal submitted for that contract competition was almost identical to the Hawaii Superferry's large-scale, aluminum-hulled high-speed catamaran design, except for military fittings and accommodations. The fact that the Superferry was already in the water, proving its seaworthiness while the JHSV contract was being considered, suggests that it may have always been intended as a prototype or demo model for the larger deal. It also explains the consistent refusals to do an EIS, which might have delayed getting the boat operational and visible.
Two years earlier, Lehman had also purchased a shipyard, Atlantic Marine, adjacent to Austal in Mobile. It's not yet clear if Lehman's company, or Superferry, stands to gain from the Austal award, possibly by subcontracting aspects of that huge construction project, but speculation in Hawaii runs wild.
All parties await the next ruling from the Hawaii Supreme Court on the Maui appeal. A new diverse grassroots community of activists on Kauai is warily assessing whether it will again need to respond. Will the company try to send the boat back to Kauai? Or will the Superferry quit Hawaii altogether as too much trouble, selling the boat for military uses, or to someplace with no activist surfers? As for Lingle's future, it's not bright. While touring with Palin during the presidential campaign, Lingle was quoted saying that Barack Obama's "claim" to be from Hawaii is "disingenuous." That enraged the Hawaiian public more than the Superferry. She may no longer be politically viable.