Grassroot Testimony: SB 3022 (Relating to Ferries)

To: Senate Committee on Water, Land & Agriculture
Sen. Mike Gabbard, Chair
Sen. Clarence Nishihara, Vice Chair

Senate Committee on Transportation & Energy
Sen. Lorraine Inouye, Chair
Sen. Mike Gabbard, Vice Chair

From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
President Keli’i Akina, Ph.D.

Comments Only

Dear Chair and Committee Members:

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its comments on SB 3022, which would require the department of land and natural resources to conduct any necessary environmental assessment for the establishment of a intra-state or inter-state ferry system. It would also provide a non-refundable tax credit and a fifty per cent reduction in harbor fees for the first year of operation for any company operating an inter-island ferry vessel.

It is a tribute to the enduring impact of the Superferry that so many years after its demise, there remains a strong interest in seeing it restored. That this continues to come before the Legislature on an annual basis speaks both to the local need for an interisland transport solution and the inability of the state to put forth a sound and viable plan for a replacement system. In this bill, there is the opportunity to create real leadership on this issue and rescue it from the mire of studies and debate that it has been bogged down in for years.

The issues involved are simple and can be encompassed in one bill that takes aim at the major challenges to construction of a ferry:

  • What type of ferry system is envisioned—a fast ferry or more traditional ferry service? Because serious questions have been raised about the economic viability of a fast ferry, the state must do a study that determines which is the most beneficial and frame the remaining questions around that solution.
  • What remaining regulatory hurdles remain for the construction of a viable ferry service? Though this is what a feasibility study must address, it will be helpful to look at the full spectrum of possibilities in this case. For example, requesting an exemption from the US-build requirement of the Jones Act may make a significant difference in the cost of construction.
  • Because it was the lack of an environmental impact statement that helped doom the Superferry, it seems that rather than pursue half measures in environmental assessment, the ferry project (having made basic determinations about route and type) should conduct a well-tailored economic impact statement that will allow the project to proceed without being delayed by countless court challenges.

At the time that the Superferry was discontinued, it had support from approximately 88% of Hawaii’s citizens.[1] This was a service that not only helped create jobs, but also provided a substantial benefit to local businesses. Companies like Love’s Bakery were able to use the ferry to improve distribution and save costs, making it a boon to Hawaii’s citizens and economy.

We have seen multiple failed attempts to bring back the Superferry in some form. What we truly need now is decisive action and leadership that will move the project forward. A bill that effectively addresses the barriers to a new ferry is an important first step.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit our comments.


[1] Michael A. Lilly, “Why Hawaii Lost the Superferry.” Building Industry. (July 2009).

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