Fred Hemmings on Hawaii's Superferry

This is an opinion piece written by 1968 World Champion surfer and Hawaiian State Representative, Fred Hemmings (R, Kailua to Hawaii Kai) offering another point of view about Hawaii’s new, scandal-plagued Superferry service.

Hemmings, pro Superferry Senator

Don’t let hysterical opposition keep Hawaii in the dark again

By Fred Hemmings

It is a tragedy that for several generations great opportunities in Hawaii have been lost due to a vocal minority. Opportunities that would benefit the overwhelming majority of people in Hawaii, such as the Superferry, have been scuttled by vociferous and often ill-informed protesters. The contradictory arguments of those opposed to the Superferry are missing the essence of the situation. We all should be most concerned that once again Hawaii stands to lose a valuable asset for its people unless something is done very soon.

“What if” scenarios are fueling the argument against the Superferry. The opposition speculates the Superferry is receiving a tax subsidy from the state. This is inherently untrue. The Superferry is like every other vessel that uses harbor resources. This money does not come from the taxpayers’ general fund. Rather, it is a bond issuance that will be paid back by funds collected from harbor users such as Matson, Young Brothers, Superferry and the cruise lines.

The money fronted by the state that was used for harbor improvements to accommodate the Superferry is an asset owned by the state that will be paid back by the Superferry’s fees.

Another claim is that the Superferry will lead to increased traffic and cars on the outer islands. The Superferry is not going to be a one-way outbound business from Oahu. In order for the Superferry to economically succeed, cars will be transported to Kauai or Maui but likewise bring back a similar number to Oahu. Under the U.S. Constitution, Article IV, Section 2, the privilege clause guarantees an American citizen’s right to travel where they choose in this country.

If the Superferry never comes to fruition, Hawaii might miss out on yet another valuable asset. The list of lost opportunities is long. For instance, the economically challenged southeast flank of the Big Island could have been a major launch site for space industries, with Hilo as the gateway to the stars. The telescopes of Mauna Kea paired with the launch sites would have been a smart match and would have spawned vast economic opportunities. That did not happen because of a minority group of protesters.

Just recently, public improvement of state land in Kakaako and building smart-growth living space in the area by a prominent local firm was stifled by loud, red-shirted protesters at the Capitol. Now much of the state land remains a liability and industrial wasteland. The state does not have the resources to improve much of the land.

Conversely, years ago protesters staged vigorous opposition on the island of Kauai to the Barking Sands missile range. In that case, common sense and political leadership did prevail. The Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands is now an economic asset for Kauai and protects the pristine coastline from future commercial development.

Surfers have been some of the most vocal opposers of the Superferry. Photo ABC

I deeply sympathize with the concept of stabilizing growth in Hawaii, but the Superferry is not contributing to this problem. It would actually ease transportation woes and make it easier for kamaaina and local small businesses to travel interisland. There are clever ways to stabilize growth in Hawaii. For example, legislation has been introduced to license a finite number of visitor accommodations in an effort to curb the unchecked growth of visitor arrivals. The laws of supply and demand would make a stabilized number of visitor accommodations more economically productive.

Hawaii is in desperate need of economic opportunity, stabilizing growth, diversifying our private-sector single- industry economy, conserving the environment and our way of life. These goals might seem paradoxical, but we can achieve them if we make informed decisions. Hopefully, common sense and fairness can replace the hysteria of protesters against the Superferry. That is why the Legislature should convene as soon as possible to have the will of the people reflected in reasonable and fair laws concerning the environment and transportation resources in our harbor. Though we might rectify the law by a special session, Hawaii has already suffered negative worldwide coverage of this and the damage already might have been done.

Fred Hemmings (R, Kailua to Hawaii Kai) is the Senate Minority Leader.

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