KAHULUI – Environmentalists and farmers lashed out Thursday night at the announced layoffs of state agricultural inspectors, arguing that the move planned by the Lingle administration would uproot efforts to preserve the island’s agricultural industry and pristine environment.
Close to 100 people turned out at a Senate Ad Hoc Committee meeting held in the Maui Waena Intermediate School cafeteria. The crowd applauded those who spoke against the layoffs, some even attacking Gov. Linda Lingle.
Positions targeted to balance state budget
By ILIMA LOOMIS, Staff Writer
POSTED: August 30, 2009
PUKALANI – Plant quarantine officials said last week that laying off more than half the state’s agricultural inspectors would create such a logjam at Hawaii ports that it could cause shortages similar to those seen during shipping strikes.
Carol Okada, manager of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s Plant Quarantine Branch, said she has not been able to develop a plan for how her department will continue its core functions after it loses 52 employees, 50 of them inspectors, to layoffs planned for November.
She said food shipments to Maui and the other Neighbor Islands, which because of staff shortages would now have to be routed through Honolulu for inspection, would have to sit on the docks until the state’s remaining inspectors could look at them, with the risk that some food could spoil in the unchilled containers.
Should the layoffs go forward in November as planned by Gov. Linda Lingle, not all Maui-based inspectors will disappear, according to Carol Okada, manager of the Plant Quarantine Bureau in the state Department of Agriculture.
There are inspectors in 10 positions covered by special funds who will not be affected, including six funded by the state Department of Transportation. But the six positions paid out of the state’s general fund are on the budget-cutting hit list.
Anna Mae Shishido, Maui County supervisor of the Maui Plant Quarantine Branch, wrote a letter expressing her concern about the impact of the layoffs to two Maui lawmakers – state Sen. J. Kalani English and Rep. Joe Souki.
She said the Transportation Department’s special fund specifies that the six inspectors it pays for would work at the Kahului Airport – which means they wouldn’t do maritime inspections.
As a result, Matson and other containers carrying produce, animal feed and other agricultural material would need to go to Honolulu first for inspection, Shishido said. Diverting that cargo to Oahu would mean extra handling of Maui-bound containers, adding delays and costs for consumers.
The layoffs would also mean that more than two dozen certified nurseries on Maui would no longer be able to self-certify their plant shipments to other states because state inspectors would not be available to conduct semi-annual nursery re-certification inspections, she said.
Shishido said she was alarmed about the potential for infestations of alien species without maritime inspections on Maui.
"We anticipate increased infestations of stinging nettle caterpillars and coqui frogs on Maui and new infestations of little fire ants and the varroa mite, which have not been found here so far," she said. "The safeguards we have worked so hard to put in place will be drastically decreased or completely gone. Maui will be exposed."