Thursday, January 22, 2009

Book Review: "Ferry bad things"

Best book review on it that I have seen. Better than mine:


"Ferry bad things"
A sordid chronicle
by Matthew Martin / 1-21-2009

The Superferry Chronicles / In the future, when historians are looking for an image to succinctly capture the feeling of fatigue and dread—dread over overexpansion, militarism, environmental degradation, corporate greed, the failure of local politics to protect the interests of its citizens—that is sometimes manifest in citizens of Hawai‘i in this new millennium, they will need only to find a snapshot of the Alakai—the behemoth inter-island ferryboat, commonly, ominously, derisively, known as the Superferry.

If the above paragraph seems unfair, if it seems to discount out of hand the much-ballyhooed—by our governor, Department of Transportation toadies, and the corporate stooges whom they serve—notion that the Superferry provides an economical and convenient method of transport between islands and the fact that the Superferry brings along with it a number of much-needed jobs to the Islands, it is because, given the insanely underhanded manner in which this Superferry project was undertaken and foisted upon local residents, this reviewer does not believe that the Alakai’s presence in these Islands is a product of governmental and corporate largesse.

It is an opinion that has only deepened upon reading Koohan Paik and Jerry Mander’s new book, The Superferry Chronicles. Paik and Mander rehash the entire sorry affair—the lack of an Environmental Impact Statement or Assessment, a cavalier disregard for input from local residents, corporate stewardship by foreign policy hawks and militarists who have an eye toward developing a fleet of large catamarans, much like the Alakai, for use by the U.S. Navy, and passage of SB1 SD1, a law that protects the Superferry from environmental laws, among other things. There is much to be angry about in this book. Those moments, however, are not what makes this book worth reading: rather it is in the smaller moments of resistance reported in these pages—when watermen, residents, environmentalists, peace activists, and writers push back and assert themselves—that the reader finds hope.

The book begins (following a pair of provocative introductions from the authors which establish the Superferry as yet another in a long line of historical incidents where Hawai‘i has been exploited by outside forces; both should be required reading for Superferry advocates if only to give them some context for residents’ anger) with a recounting of the stand at Nawiliwili Harbor on Kaua‘i in August of 2007, when residents, both on land and in the water, blocked the Alakai from entering. It’s a positive chapter that outlines the grassroots efforts on Kaua‘i to mobilize citizens against the Superferry. But I would suggest reading the book out of order and instead beginning with chapters seven and eight, in which Paik and Mander provide a timeline of events showing that the idea for the ferry and the lobbying that would make it a reality started as far back as 2001.

Reading through these chapters can be demoralizing as each year seems to contain some bit of low dealing more galling than the year previous. 2004 is pivotal, however, as it sees the first hints that state agencies would accommodate the Superferry to whatever end, as the DOT and PUC issue certificates and give their approbation to the project despite no real assessment of the environmental impact of the ferry and the public outcry against granting the Superferry privileges in the state. Gov. Linda Lingle, who does not emerge in the most favorable light in these pages, pushes for exemptions from environmental assessments. And meanwhile the first hawks begin circling, in the forms of John Lehman and U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Norman Mineta, both militarists who recognize the military capabilities of such a ferry, and both of whom seek to provide capital to the project. The succeeding years are no better and are filled with more chicanery and blatant disregard for public opinion. The tide finally begins to turn at the aforementioned Nawiliwili Harbor, but by then damage has already been done.

Once context has been established, readers should turn their attention to the section titled “Environment,” with special attention paid to Hannah Bernard’s essay which describes in clear, thoughtful prose the devastating effects of not only collisions between whales and other marine life and vessels, but also the effects of noise pollution, as well as threats to traditional fishing and gathering sites. Reading this section, it is not difficult to extrapolate a rather chilling notion of the kind of havoc that the Superferry could cause.

The next stop for readers, which will no doubt be the most controversial, are the essays which posit the Superferry as a conduit for still more militarism in Hawai‘i. Joan Conrow’s essay about the Superferry as a precursor to a fleet of similar vessels to be used by the U.S. Navy (and most likely docked in the Islands) is a clear-eyed assessment of what the future could hold for the state. Haunani-Kay Trask offers a typically outraged (with reason) response not only to the Superferry, but to the military presence in Hawai‘i as a whole. Whatever one’s views on the U.S. military’s presence here, these essay should be required reading, if only to gain some understanding of why many here resist that presence with such vehemence.

After that, readers should peruse the book as they like, so long as they eventually wend their way back to the aforementioned chapter on the stand at Nawiliwili Harbor. It is an instance of citizens standing up and actually affecting a change in their community. The Superferry did not dock that day in August and it hasn’t since. It was a moment of resistance that re-framed the debate over the Superferry and gave those who have the potential to be most affected by its presence a voice. And so does this book; it is protest literature that should be read and absorbed for the lessons and information it contains, but also for its ability to empower the individual and give one hope that a handful of people or even one person can, in the face of apathy, cynicism, and impossible odds, still make a difference.

If I could make a suggestion to the future historians mentioned in the opening paragraph, be sure to include in your collection of images the one that serves as a frontispiece to this book. In it, a waterman sits astride a surfboard in the waters of Nawiliwili Harbor, his arms are raised—not in supplication, he’s not prostrating himself or seeking mercy—his arms are raised in protest. Directly before him is the Alakai, dead in the water. For all of the machinations, greed and cynicism that marshaled the ferry into existence, for all the power it supposedly possesses, it has been stopped by one man on a surfboard. And if the Alakai is, as was suggested above, the manifestation of our collective dread, then this image describes the moment when we found our resolve, faced that dread, and began to stand against it.

The Superferry Chronicles Koohan Paik and Jerry Mander Koa Books, 319 pp.

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