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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 22, 2010

Wounds in ferry saga still fresh

By Lee Cataluna

At least the Superferry saga has a footnote of redemption.

The announcement was made this week by the U.S. secretary of transportation that the Alakai is being prepared for relief duty in Haiti. It will join Huakai, its sister ship that never came to Hawai'i because of the whole Superferry fiasco.

So Superferry will find a purpose and a measure of vindication after all. It seems to have, at least for a time, found a higher calling than getting Hawai'i residents mad at each other.

But the redemption is just for the ships themselves, not for the messy failed effort to get them into Hawai'i waters, and not for all those involved in trying to force the business past environmental review.

It hasn't even been a year since Hawaii Superferry filed for bankruptcy, leaving 200 employees out of work and Hawai'i taxpayers potentially holding the bag for $40 million in harbor improvements. (Gov. Linda Lingle insists that no public money was spent on the Superferry, but let's just see how successful the state is in getting a company that no longer exists to pay the bill.) The emotions are still raw. The term "Superferry" is used in political arguments to invoke either a colossal cutting of corners by politicians in awe of guys with money; or, a tragic loss of a valuable resource as a result of liberal zealots worried about whales.

The Superferry will long be remembered for the extreme theatrics that played out in public: surfers leaping into Nāwiliwili Harbor to stop the vessel from docking on Kaua'i; Lingle traveling to Līhu'e to scold Kaua'i residents for disobedience; the stories about O'ahu people smuggling rocks from Maui for imu and hula; and the many accounts of seasickness.

The whole episode also caused a poisonous interisland rivalry. O'ahu residents were incensed that Neighbor Islanders didn't want them ferrying over their cars and taking their limu. The letters and online comments got hysterical.

"Oh yeah? Well, you jokers can keep your soggy Krispy Kreme and stay on your own island. See if we care. We got Liliha Bakery. And you Kauai hellions with your harbor blockades and foul language you just try get through Christmas without a trip to Pearl Ridge for the kids' gifts. See what you can find at Kukui Grove. Just try live without us."

Those wounds haven't quite healed.

The Alakai and Huakai will join other Maritime Administration ships in the Haiti relief effort, moving troops, bringing vehicles and supplies. The press release from the Maritime Administration doesn't even mention the word "Superferry," as if the name itself with its various connotations would weigh Alakai down.