Until about 50 years ago, you could go from island to island on either an airplane or a steamship.  If you went by sea, there was regularly-scheduled service to all the deepwater ports, and you could take as much stuff with you as you could pay for.

Today, you can only fly inter-island; and if your stuff is too big or too heavy to fit on the plane, you have to send it on a barge hauled by a tugboat, and wait for it to get there.  And although cruise ships go from island to island every day, they won’t take you on for just one hop.

Of course, there is an inter-island “Superferry” now , that can carry people, freight, autos, trucks, buses and tanks.  It began service from Honolulu to Maui and Kauai last fall, but the first sailings were public-relations disasters.  The Superferry’s operators had been assured by state officials that they wouldn’t have to file an environmental impact statement.  But protesters who massed on the shores, or dove into the water, were insisting that they should – and in court, a judge agreed.  Service was trimmed; but stormy January weather kept the ferry in Honolulu, and in February it was suddenly sent to drydock for repairs, and likely won’t sail again until late April.

This is an unfortunate development for all concerned.  There are environmental impacts to inter-island seaborne transport.  Harbors accustomed only to ocean liners and containerized freight must be re-configured, possibly even dredged anew.  And car-carrying ferries do increase the risk of accidentally spreading pests, such as coqui frogs, bee mites, or fountain grass.

But surveys have found a majority of Hawaii’s people would like to have the option of taking a ship instead of a plane, especially if it were cheaper.  And many would, at least once in a while, like to drive their own car around another island.  The State’s economy would benefit from being able to simultaneously move school groups with their buses to historic places; visitors with their tour-vans to hotels; construction crews with their equipment to public works sites; growers with their produce trucks to farmers’ markets; and soldiers with their armored vehicles to training grounds.

One can only hope that, when the Superferry starts running again, operators and protesters can agree to give it the one test it did not get a chance to meet: providing regularly scheduled service.

But we on the Big Island can only sit and watch . . . and wait another year or two, at least, before a second Superferry arrives, that will serve Kawaihae.

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