State lawmakers last week put the inter-island Hawaii Superferry back in service, the state house voting 39-11 in favor of an emergency measure that removes the final obstacle in the way of the 800-passenger ship, despite worries it could damage the islands' fragile environment.
The bill previously passed the Senate and now goes to ferry supporter Gov. Linda Lingle. The ferry could resume service from Oahu to Maui and Kauai in about two weeks once Lingle signs the bill.
Some residents fear the 42-mph ferry could collide with endangered humpback whales and destroy the tropical charm of islands, linked only by air and cargo boats. But lawmakers decided they needed to provide a vehicle alternative to air travel.
"We are one island, one state," said Rep. Joe Souki, D-Waihee-Wailuku. "The water is our highway."
The Hawaii Superferry law was passed explicitly to override decisions by the Hawaii Supreme Court and a lower court that the state needed to first complete an environmental study of the vessel, a process that could have taken years.
Opponents called the legislative action illegal and wrongful.
"Once we lose what we're about to lose, we'll never get it back," said Rep. Lyla Berg, D-Hahaione Valley-Aina Haina.
The bill requests that whale observers be on the ferry, requires vehicle inspections and calls on Lingle to create additional regulations. It also opens an investigation into why the 300 million U.S. dollar Superferry operation was granted an exception to Hawaii's environmental laws in the first place.