- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

HONOLULU (AP) - The first passenger-vehicle ferry between major Hawaiian islands says it will lay off more than 200 employees after suspending its service.

Hawaii Superferry said it will begin releasing employees Friday. The company said it has 161 full- and part-time employees and 75 contracted employees.

Hawaii Superferry had said Monday night that it was ceasing operations because the state Supreme Court had rejected a state law allowing the company to operate while an environmental study is being conducted.

There will be one more Honolulu-Maui roundtrip Thursday to bring passengers and vehicles back to there home islands.

The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations activated its Rapid Response Team to assist the soon-to-be former Hawaii Superferry employees.

The Superferry, a car and passenger service that linked Oahu and Maui and had hopes to expand, has been under fire from critics who argued the use of its 350-foot ship could harm whales and damage the area’s fragile ecology.

The state had exempted the Superferry from environmental review in 2005. But the Supreme Court later ruled that an environmental study was needed before the vessel could operate.

That prompted the Legislature to convened in special session in 2007 and pass a law enabling the Superferry to run while an environmental assessment was drafted. But the court on Monday argued that the law was unconstitutional, and sent the case back to Circuit Court.

Attorney General Mark Bennett has said the administration is not considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court because there is no federal issue, but the court could be asked to reconsider its decision. He said the state may try to save the Hawaii Superferry by completing a full environmental impact statement.

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