HONOLULU - Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann said that if he's elected as the next governor, he will make it a priority to bring back the Superferry - a proposal that could be a magnet for strife as well as support.
Hannemann said Wednesday that it will not be easy, but he will take a different approach than his predecessors, who introduced an inter-island ferry that failed within two years.
The Superferry ran from 2007 until 2009 and was plagued with problems. Protesters concerned about pollution and traffic prevented the ferry from docking on Kauai.
But now, residents of Oahu and the Neighbor Islands have been telling Hannemann they want more options than air travel, he said.
"It's come up on numerous occasions that people want to see the Superferry come back," Hannemann said. "And I said, 'You know what? I think I can take a crack at this again.' ''
Hannemann said he succeeded in building coalitions to push for a rail system on Oahu, and he could use that experience.
The biggest mistake made last time was the decision to operate the ferry without completing an environmental impact statement, Hanneman said. He would ensure that an environmental impact statement would be done, he said.
The 340-foot-long Superferry had the capacity to ferry 900 passengers and more than 200 vehicles on trips from Honolulu to Kauai and Maui.
One Hanapepe businessman had called the ferry a "killing machine" because it sped along at 40 mph, damaging marine life. But a judge cleared the way for the Superferry to begin operating before an environmental study was finished.
Just a mention of the ferry stirs emotions among environmentalists.
"The Superferry rears its ugly head," said Irene Bowie, executive director of the Maui Tomorrow Foundation, a nonprofit. "We're not against a ferry system. We're saying these types of ferries around the world have problems."
When the ferry was in operation, people from Oahu loaded up trucks with pohaku stones, which are found in rivers and used in outdoor underground ovens, Bowie said. More needs to be done to ensure that invasive species wouldn't be ferried from one island to another, but she would support the creation of a task force to find an environmentally appropriate ferry system, she said.
Hannemann said he would hold community meetings to address those concerns.
Hannemann is running for governor as an Independent, and he faces no opponent in the primary election.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who faces Sen. David Ige in the Democratic primary, said he, too, would like to see the Superferry return.
"Gov. Abercrombie has previously stated that he would support bringing the Superferry back if there was a willing and able private investor," said Shane Peters, spokesman for the Abercrombie campaign.
Ige said the statewide transportation system needs review. "The re-evaluation of the Superferry would require an assessment of need weighed with public input, and a process that honors the procedural guidelines and letter of the law," he said in an emailed statement.
Former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, who is running for governor as a Republican, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hannemann says Abercrombie had four years to make progress on returning inter-island ferry service to Hawaii.
"If I had been elected, I would have made major inroads," Hannemann said.
In a related development, Democratic candidates Abercrombie and Ige plan to debate June 24 at the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce at the Japanese Cultural Center.
Chamber officials say the candidates will discuss their views on issues, including Hawaii's economy, the cost of living, education and energy.