Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"How much is the Superferry draining from the state’s taxpayer revenues?"

Lots of things to catch up on. Will start with Irene Bowie's recent, poignant Op-Ed, similar to her recent testimony at the most recent OTF meeting:

VIEWPOINT: "How much is the Superferry draining from the state’s taxpayer revenues?"
By IRENE BOWIE September 29, 2008

"Gov. Linda Lingle recently issued emergency orders to control and reduce state government expenditures. The state budget director is forecasting a billion-dollar shortfall in revenues through 2011 and we're told the 2009 Legislature will need to make tough decisions.

Already depleted resources for the state library system have been trimmed by another $1.2 million, and community clinics that provide basic health care services to low-income and uninsured residents are underfunded.

In this difficult financial climate priorities must be considered and it has become even more critical that Hawaii taxpayers be presented a public report listing the costs which the state has incurred supporting a private, Mainland-owned corporation, Hawaii Superferry.

A complete financial accounting is especially important because the Lingle administration's Department of Transportation violated the law by exempting the ferry operation from undergoing the required HRS 343 Environmental Review in spite of the state Supreme Court's unanimous decision that the law be upheld.

The public is well aware of the $40 million loan to accommodate the ferry at all four major harbors for barges, ramps, fences and parking areas. But consider these other items being paid for by state taxpayers:

* At least 12 Legislature-mandated, DOT-funded meetings to receive input that an environmental review would have evaluated.

* The state's purchase of land where the Kahului Railroad building is now located to accommodate Superferry's need for wharf space, and the relocation of Young Brothers' harbor operations to handle less-than-container load shipments.

* The time and money spent by the Legislature to pass bills that would override the DOT's mistaken exemption of the needed environmental review.

* A special meeting of the Environmental Council conducted by the Office of Environmental Quality Control to review the DOT exemption decision.

* The administration's actions to defeat citizen lawsuits and their ongoing appeals, including the attorney general's efforts in several lower courts and the state Supreme Court.

* A costly special legislative session called by Gov. Lingle in October to pass Act 2, giving Hawaii Superferry an exemption from environmental law.

* The expenditures resulting from Gov. Lingle's "Unified Command" utilizing various state departments, plus the National Guard, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Maui and Kauai police departments to enact an "Emergency Security Zone" in the weeks following HSF's resumption of service.

* Act 2's mandated yearlong Large-Capacity Ferry Vessel Oversight Task Force, the preparation of a rapid risk assessment and environmental impact statement, and a state auditor's investigation and report on the failures of the administration to comply with the provisions of HRS 343.

* The daily services of tugboats to hold the Alakai's barge in place at Kahului Harbor, an expense that could have been avoided if Hawaii Superferry had simply installed ramps on the ferry.

* The state Department of Agriculture inspectors at each harbor who oversee screenings by minimally trained ferry employees, as well as state Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement officers who monitor the illegal transfer of contraband items, such as opihi, fish and limu between the islands. [Blog note-Will just add that the reef fish and limu are not limited by DLNR regs nor by the Act. 2/E.O.]

* Future costs for new ferry facilities at Kahului Harbor as projected in the 2030 Kahului Harbor Master Plan, which includes the elimination of the already-paid-for landing barge.

* And finally, projected costs for Hawaii Superferry operations at Kawaihae Harbor beginning in 2009, and additional costs if HSF resumes service to Kauai.

Maui Tomorrow has formally requested the oversight task force produce this information in its final report to the Legislature and asks the Senate Ways and Means Committee and House Finance Committee to release this document to the public and the state auditor. Taxpayers deserve to know if ongoing expenditures to underwrite Hawaii Superferry are justified or if scarce state funds could be put to better use for community services such as libraries, health clinics and schools.

In bringing this information forward legislators will be commended by community members who demand an accurate assessment of the financial impacts that result when government does not follow the law."

* Irene Bowie is executive director of the Maui Tomorrow Foundation Inc. with offices in Makawao.

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