For years, Hawaii has been burdened with a reputation for being a bad place to do business. Some blame overregulation; some say it’s a lack of regulation. Actually, it’s been a lack of consistency.

The Hawaii Superferry is a good case in point. When the interisland ferry system was first proposed to the state administration shortly after the turn of this century, it was immediately seen as a great idea. While some environmentalists and Hawaiian activists threw up some resistance, the state moved quickly to expedite its implementation.

First, the state determined that the Hawaii Superferry operations should be exempt from an environmental review, which ordinarily must be done under state law prior to the start of activity.

The Superferry began operating between Oahu and Maui and Oahu and Kauai. For its inaugural voyage, the Superferry left Honolulu for Kahului Harbor and returned without incident, but the afternoon cruise to Kauai was met by protesters who prevented it from docking at Nawiliwili Harbor.

Then the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that environmental laws require the state to review the impact of Superferry operations on the environment. Then a judge issued an order banning Superferry operations to Maui until the state conducts an environmental review. The Superferry decided to suspend service to Kauai as well.

In a special session called by the governor, the Hawaii State Legislature passed an act that allowed the Superferry to operate while the state prepares an environmental impact statement, which was initiated. Accordingly, the judge lifted his ban on Superferry operations to Maui, and the ferry resumed service to Maui.

The State Auditor then scolded the state on the issue, saying the state ignored its own long-standing policy and environmental laws. The Sierra Club and two other groups filed formal notice that they will appeal the judge’s ruling and go directly to the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Now the Hawaii Supreme Court has ruled that the state law allowing the Superferry to operate while an environmental impact statement was being conducted is unconstitutional.

$250 million dollars later, the Superferry has ceased to operate, perhaps permanently. (It can take its hardware virtually anywhere else in the world, to a more predictable civic structure.)

In the meantime, the fallout will affect commercial operations statewide, 256 Superferry workers are out of jobs, and those of you who will be vacationing in Hawaii will have lost a great, enjoyable way to travel among the islands.

Who was at fault? Maybe the Superferry and the state administration pushed the envelope too far and too fast. Maybe the Hawaii Supreme Court got a little too fussy over the letter of the law.

But if you had a good product and a good idea, would you be anxious to bring them to the islands and set up shop? It’s kind of hard to understand the rules here.


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