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Irene Bowie –
Superferry Killer Has Clout

Updated 11:00 AM HST, March 6, 2012
Posted 10:40 AM HST, March 5, 2012

By Susan Halas

Irene Bowie, executive director of Maui Tomorrow. Photo by Susan Halas.

Irene Bowie has always paddled and surfed and advocated for the ocean.

But her reputation took a quantum leap when, as head of Maui Tomorrow, she sued over the Super Ferry and won. “As a water person I became concerned as growth started to be detrimental to the natural environment. At Maui Tomorrow we think there’s a better way to grow.

Bowie recalled, she became the executive director at Maui Tomorrow in April of 2007, “just as things were heating up.”

At that time, Maui Tomorrow, the Kahului Harbor Coalition and the Sierra Club represented by Maui attorney Isaac Hall were in the middle of a legal suit to oppose the process that allowed the controversial Super Ferry to run between Maui and Honolulu. They took the issue to court, saying the ferry failed to follow state environmental law. The groups that sued were not opposed to the ferry itself, but they did oppose short circuiting the normal review process.

The case was twice appealed to the Hawaii State Supreme Court.

“In the End We Prevailed.”

The 2009 court ruling overturned a state law that had been passed specifically to exempt the ferry from normal environmental review.  “For me it was trial by fire, like being thrown in the deep end of the pool.”

The Super Ferry decision meant “we were taken seriously,” she said. “The issue got state, national and international attention. There was a story in the Sunday New York Times. Reporters called us from as far away as Spain and New Zealand.”

As for how much it cost, Bowie said they got a good rate on legal fees and plenty of community support.

“I was encouraged by the number of people who made donations. The money came in from throughout Hawaii and out-of-state.”

Small is Beautiful

tiny office irene bowie

Maui Tomorrow has a tiny office and Bowie is their only full time employee. Susan Halas Photo.

Not bad for a private non-profit environmental advocacy organization with an annual budget of less than $250,000.

Bowie is Maui Tomorrow’s only full-time staffer. A few others work part-time. Their Wailuku office is a little more than 100 square feet. That’s its physical presence: One person and a little room. She estimates the organization has “about a thousand supporters.”  It’s small, but mighty. It is overseen by a board headed by Judith Michaels and Mark Sheehan.

Kahului Resident & Mauian since 1978

Bowie, 59, is a Kahului resident. She came to Maui from Southern California for the first time in 1969. In 1978 she moved to Maui full time.

Prior to taking the leadership post at Maui Tomorrow she’d held many jobs. She was a crew member for Sea Sport “when it was one of only two boats that cruised to Molokini.” By the early 80s she was working for Ocean Activities Center. “That’s a long time ago.”

In 1980 Bowie was a founding member of Pacific Whale Foundation. She later served as its managing director from 2001 to 2005. “That experience made me much more aware of environmental risks to the ocean.”

“Pacific Whale experienced phenomenal growth,” she said. “It went from no employees in 1980 to over 100 employees and four large charter boats by 2001.”

By 2007 when she joined Maui Tomorrow, Bowie had been involved in different ways in “quite a few projects and I knew quite a few folks.”

After the Super Ferry, the organization turned its attention to a variety of other issues including alternative energy county-wide, the Maui Island Plan, Maui’s airports and harbors.

“Now we’re very involved in water issues. We’re pushing water reuse and favor less use of injection wells.”

Along those lines Maui Tomorrow and Hui O Na Wai Eha, together with Earth Justice have an appeal before the state Supreme Court over a recent court decision on the amount of water to be released from the Waikapu, Iao, Waiehu and Waiehu streams. They are facing HC&S in this matter. What the outcome will be is still uncertain.

If Persuasions Fails … Litigate

maui tomorrow accomplishments

This sign lists some of Maui Tomorrow's accomplishments. Susan Halas photo.

“The bottom line is people think we’re effective whether they like us or not. If persuasion fails we don’t hesitate to litigate.”

How’s she feeling?

“I’m not burned out yet. It’s a fascinating job, it is issue oriented, I see what’s going on. There’s plenty to do: phone calls, meetings, testimony and research. We work in coalition with other organizations and committees. For example on the water, the Maui Island Plan, sustainable, agriculture – we try to draw in informed people.”

Asked how she manages to keep an even keel in the midst of so much stress, she replied: “I rely on my Buddhist teachings to seek the middle way. I try not to approach things in an adversarial manner. I don’t like to think of us as being in opposition; we try to find common ground.

Of Course There Will Be Growth

“I am not anti-growth, and Maui Tomorrow is not anti-development. We have our critics. Even though we may not think alike, over the years a great deal of mutual respect has developed. Of course there will be growth. Let’s aim for growth that will serve us now and in future generations. We’re facing hard decisions; let’s choose wisely how we go forward.”

bumper stickers

The organization has been active in Save Makena. Susan Halas photo.






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Editor's Note:Maui Now is an open forum and we welcome any views. However, please apply your sense of aloha when posting comments - remarks that are unnecessarily offensive will be blocked.

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  • Luvart808

       I am for the super ferry. Where were you when we had four cruise ships comming in and out of Kahului Harbor. I paddled in that harbor for years and wittnessed it.  I was born and raised on the windward side of Oahu and have Ohana there. Most local families can not afford to see each other due to the high cost of air travel. The three times I did use the super ferry I took my car. It saved me 350.00 the average cost of a rental for 5 days. I witnessed numerous families from Hawaii traveling, especially with children and it warmed my heart because the keiki from Maui will be able to meet their ohana and get to know them. They will also be able to visit the Bishop Museum and planetarium. There is a tremendous wealth of culture for our keiki on Maui to learn from. I hope that all people of Hawaii will be able to come to a compromise to make it possible to return.

  • Big Kuhuna

    Thanks alot Maui Tommorrow. Now we get to pay Hawaiian Airlines $200 for a round trip to and from Honolulu due to lack of competition. I used to support Maui Tommorrow but by killing the ferry you lost me as a supporter.

  • JSantos

    Maui Yesterday is a big yaaawwnnnnn….   Superferry is coming back, by the way.  :)

  • Dakine

    She is no hero.  Pure zero.

  • KCardwell

    “She estimates the organization has “about a thousand supporters.” ”
    So basically, a 1000 people got to dictate what the other 200,000 people on Maui wanted.  Awesome.  Thanks Irene.  :(

  • Hawaiiansupaman

    Some politicains want to leave a legacy before their term expires.  Linda Lingle was one of them.  With the clock ticking, she knew the process would take too long for her to receive the credit.  In her blind quest to leave the Superferry as her legacy, Lingle tried to bypass the legal system by dictating to our legislators to create a law to allow her to do so.  Your past Governor Linda Lingle and the legislators that went along with her are to blame NOT Irene.  Now Lingle wants to take Dan Akaka’s senate seat.         

  • Traveling Man

    The bottom line in all of this is that Environmental Laws were broken and then rewritten to accomodate the ferry.  Had the Superferry done the right thing by doing the Environmental Impact Statement, addressed and then fixed the outcome of the EIS before it sailed, which incidentally was the reason for the protests it would have been more palpable as the need for an inter-island ferry system is a very good idea and much needed.   The it has to be NOW or Never idea was already the wrong approach and was certain to meet with resistance.  A lesson learned the hard way as the state is still responsible for $60 Million in harbor improvements which will never be recouped from the Superferry bankruptcy.  The reality is that the Lingle administration and the legislature both is responsible for failing the people of Hawaii, not Irene Bowen and certainly not any protestor.   Now that the interest is still there to revive some type of inter-island ferry, perhaps this time they will learn to do things the correct way.  NEVER circumvent the LAW!!!!

  • Bumpy

    The EIS process was a scam.  Everyone who is being honest knows that this boat would have had LESS impact on the environment than ANY cruise ship or cargo ship already in service.  Everyone wants to save the whales but in reality the whale watching boats hit more whales every year than any other boat on the water, and yet they are allowed to continue.  Its all BS.  Corporate powers were behind this that saw the SUPER ferry was a threat their business.  Foley must be getting paid by the other side if he really thinks the inter-island ferry was stupid.  Monopolies are stupid.  Looking forward to the ferry coming back.  Its what the people want.

    • Hawaiiansupaman

      Laws like the EIS serve a number of purposes.  I agree with Bumpy when it used to preclude competition.  However, large corporations will pay the government to bend existing or create new laws to fit their needs.  If left unchallenged, the partnership of large corporations and government will do whatever they please.  Another purpose of the law is to determine if there are any negative impacts or not.  Unless one is done we will never know.  Problem for return will not be the EIS.  Profitabilty without government subsidies and PUC control will determine success. 

  • Nevamine

    You should take your organization and move back to southern California.
    Superferry killer for a moment there you were trying to kill HC&S the on company that gives the most to maui.

  • Baj808

    How sad to see another SoCal elitist ruin such a great opportunity for so many ohanas, farmers, and visitors. No data to suggest the ferrh has any more adverse than the increased tugs, barges & airliners needed to take he place of a clean, safe ferry ststem. I wonder if she has ever been to Pugot Sound (Seattle) where mega ferries are a way of life- and never has one whale been struck or injured.
    One thing is for sure Maui Tomorrow is Hawaiian Airlines & ALL car rental agencies BEST friend! Soo too bad to see such a few ignorant elitist blow sucha great opportunity for he majority and envirnoment!

  • Baj808

    Only good result of the Maui Tomorrow effort was I cancelled my 17 yr membership with Sierra Club & remind them of the harm their efforts (funding) to the clean super ferry demise caused every yr they plead for my membership renewal…Thanks Maui Today for causing me to re-engage my critical thinking skills – even when it went against groups I supported. Maui Today and Sierra Club should have been to front leaders of support to this great alternative rather than just supporting the eco-damaging status quo! Shame…

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