Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Admiral Farragut's torpedoes and the Hawai'i Superferry

There is a point at which a commander throws caution to the winds and orders, in the words of Admiral Farragut, “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead.”


It worked for David Farragut in the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864. He defeated the Confederate fleet—largely because most of the tethered mines, then called torpedoes, were duds. They bounced off the ships' hulls and didn't explode.


(Image: The U.S. Postal Service's 1903 Farragut stamp, a $1 issue.)


Damning the torpedoes is always risky. It doesn't always work. Indeed, it seldom does. Take the Hawai'i Superferry (I know, you're tired of the Superferry).


Early on, when there was still plenty of time to perform a proper environmental study without holding up the ferry at all, someone made that call.


To paraphrase the classic line from “The Treasure of Sierra Madre:” “We don't have no EIS. We don't need no EIS. I don't have to show you any stinkin' EIS.”


Never mind that the Councils of three of the four counties, representing 100 percent of the ferry's destinations from Honolulu, asked for environmental studies.


Today's it's popular to blame the “environmentalists” for the Superferry's failure. But County Councils are hardly hotbeds of environmental furor. They mostly get blamed for representing the interests of power, not the radical vegan community.


Someone, at some point, made the Farragut call, although we don't know whether it was in Governor Linda Lingle's office, Superferry president John Garibaldi's office, a Superferry lawyer's or state Attorney General's office, a public relations consultant's office or perhaps a state Department of Transportation office.


The call was wrong. The Hawai'i Supreme Court said so, although the court's position in this is widely misunderstood. It required the Department of Transportation conduct an EIS—not that the Superferry prepare one.


In late August, 2007, a 15-year-old kid on a surfboard was among four dozen swimming and paddling protesters in Nawiliwili Harbor, preventing the Superferry's entrance. When Coast Guard officers used boat hooks to try to snag him and arrest him, he insisted they arrest the ferry captain as the real lawbreaker.


Technically, the Kauai kid on the surboard was wrong. Arguably, he should have been protesting at the state Department of Transportation office—or at the office of the person who made the Farragut call, if anybody could figure out who that was.


And technically, the Superferry was right as it sailed into the minefield. But clearly, the Farragut call in this case was catastrophic.


For Farragut, the mines didn't go off. For the Hawai'i Superferry, they did.


©2009 Jan TenBruggencate

3 comments:

Dave Smith said...

Good post.

If I recall correctly, the Lingle administration decision to proceed without an EIS was made against even the recommendation of DOT staff.

Lanny Sinkin said...

Jan says:

"Technically, the Kauai kid on the surboard was wrong. Arguably, he should have been protesting at the state Department of Transportation office—or at the office of the person who made the Farragut call, if anybody could figure out who that was.


And technically, the Superferry was right as it sailed into the minefield. But clearly, the Farragut call in this case was catastrophic."

Actually, the kid was correct and the Superferry was wrong. The Supreme Court decision that required an environmental assessment (EA) stated that Section 343 (the Hawaii Environmental Protection Act)decided the case. That section states that, if an environmental assessment is required, completion of that assessment is a "condition precedent" to any further action. In other words, the State had to complete the EA before the State could permit Superferry to operate.

The Attorney General issued a false legal opinion that Superferry could operate while preparing an EA. That opinion was directly contrary to the law. The Governor, the Department of Transportation, and Superferry all embraced that legal position and put Superferry into operation.

The protestors in Nawiliwili Harbor knew that the Superferry was operating illegally and that state officials were cooperating in that illegal operation. They acted to enforce the law.

Karen Chun said...

I agree with Lenny (and he's the attorney)

The week before the Superferry sailed, the Hawai'i Supreme Court said it could not sail without and EIS. Although the case was based out of Maui, the law applied to all islands.

Then the Superferry MOVED UP its launch date to Monday because they knew the Maui people would be in court that day asking Judge Cardoza for an injunction.

So during those two days between the Court decision and the injuction, the Superferry KNEW it was breaking the law.