Categorized | Agriculture, Government, News

Governor restores 10 ag inspector positions on Oahu


Honolulu – Governor Neil Abercrombie approved the hiring of 10 agricultural inspectors, restoring some positions that were eliminated in 2009. The 10 positions will increase the level of inspections of produce and agricultural material and decrease inspection delays at Honolulu International Airport.

“Reinstating our agricultural inspectors was a key element of the New Day Plan and its promise to protect the environment, grow more of our own food, and restore a strong economy in Hawai’i,” said Governor Abercrombie.

With the restored inspector positions, the Hawai’i Department of Agriculture’s (HDOA) Plant Quarantine Branch will:

  • Increase inspection coverage at Honolulu International Airport, which is the highest-risk entry point for invasive species
  • Increase inspection of cargo moving interisland
  • Decrease the amount of overtime that importers are paying for after-hours cargo inspection
  • Allow for time to concentrate on processing import permits for vital bioenergy and research projects
  • Potentially re-establish the detector dog program

Governor Abercrombie also signed into law House Bill 1568, now Act 202, which directs the Department of Transportation and HDOA to begin the design and construction of biosecurity inspection facilities at airports and harbors. These inspection facilities will allow HDOA and federal inspection authorities to perform their inspection tasks more efficiently and safely.

“Investing in our agricultural inspection activities to prevent the introduction of invasive species will save the state money in the long run,” said Russell S. Kokubun, Chairperson of the Hawai’i Board of Agriculture. “Restoring agricultural inspection positions and the construction of new biosecurity inspection facilities will greatly improve our ability to protect our environment from the irreparable harm of outside threats.”

Prior to layoffs in 2009, there were 95 plant quarantine inspectors statewide, covering all domestic maritime and air cargo inspections and handling import permits for regulated plants, animals and microorganisms. Currently, there are only 50 agricultural inspectors statewide.

“The more eyes you have looking, the more invasive species you’re going to find and prevent from entering our environment,” said Carol Okada, Manager of the Plant Quarantine Branch. “One of our main priorities is to get our inspectors back on the job while we continue to search for others ways to boost our inspection services.”

The following table depicts the number of inspectors prior to the layoff and the current number statewide:

PORT       2009 Staff     Current Staff       Current Vacancies
       (prior to layoffs)                (incl. 10 positions announced)
O'ahu           61             26                  24 (10 to be filled)
Maui            17             13                   4
Kaua'i           3              2                   0
Kona             4              2                   1
Hilo            10              7                   3
TOTAL           95             50                  32 (10 to be filled)

The following Plant Quarantine data shows the number of interceptions at airports during the six-month period prior to the layoffs in 2009 and for the same period in 2010. The interception rate dropped by half statewide and by 762 percent on O’ahu.

AIRPORT            Interceptions          Interceptions
            July 2009 to December  2009 July 2010 to December 2010
O'ahu                 663                       87
Maui                  722                      639
Kaua'i                 29                        0
Kona                   18                        4
Hilo                   25                        0
STATEWIDE           1,457                      730

HDOA will be using a “recall list” to bring back former agricultural inspectors. The positions will be funded by the Pest Inspection Quarantine and Eradication Special Fund, which cargo importers pay into based on cargo weight. The branch hopes to complete the rehiring procedures as soon as possible and have the inspectors back on the inspection teams.

The enactment of HB 1568 helps to lay the groundwork for the construction of inspection facilities at Honolulu International Airport and Honolulu Harbor to aid agricultural inspectors. New inspection facilities will concentrate inspection activities in an enclosed, secured and temperature-controlled area. This will make inspections more efficient by bringing the cargo to the inspection building rather than having inspectors go out to the individual cargo and shipping areas. The building would also be able to better contain any pest or pathogen that may hitchhike on agricultural material. In addition, it will help increase food safety as cargo will not be exposed to daylight during inspection or while waiting for inspection.

An inspection facility was built several years ago at Kahului Airport as a requirement of the Kahului Airport Expansion Project.

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