County wants state pesticide inspectors back

LIHUE — The Kauai County Council’s Planning Committee unanimously approved Wednesday sending a proposal to the Legislature to fund three pesticide inspectors at the state Department of Agriculture.

“In my correspondence to the governor, I asked him to reestablish the positions that were removed by his predecessor,” said Council Chair Jay Furfaro, who introduced the proposal.

The state’s responsibility is “very clear” in the Hawaii Pesticide Law, but they don’t have staff to enforce it due to budget cuts during the previous state administration, he said.

“It only makes sense to ask them to reinstate those positions, which came out to $555,000,” said Furfaro, adding the money would cover salaries, benefits and support staff.

The request now moves from the five-member committee to the full council, where all seven council members will weigh in. A final council approval means inclusion of the proposed bill in the 2014 Kauai County Legislative Package.

In the meantime, the council is crafting county Bill 2491, which gives the county some power to regulate pesticide use. Bill 2491 was approved by the council’s Economic Development (Agriculture) Committee last week and is heading to the full council for final approval.

Councilman Ross Kagawa said the council made progress with Bill 2491, “but still, the state has to step it up.”

“Myself and council member (Mel) Rapozo, we have worked long and hard on trying to get the state’s attention,” he said. “Gov. (Neil) Abercrombie just came up a little too late and too short.”

Kagawa said he didn’t want the passage of Bill 2491 to send a message to the state to stop enforcement and that the county is instead taking over.

The county is just doing what it feels is not being performed on a timely basis by the state and the federal government, he said.

Next week, Kagawa is supposed to meet with Gary Gill, state Department of Health deputy director, and DOA Pesticide Program Manager Thomas Matsuda.

“I’m going to tell them that, ‘We passed the bill but we still want to work with you and we still want improvement and I still want to find out what’s your plan,’” Kagawa said.

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura suggested more flexibility to the DOA in using the funds, and perhaps allow it to reinstate two inspectors and use a third position for remedying or removing log-jams in other processes affected by pesticide regulation.

Furfaro said those positions were what the DOA had for enforcement prior to the cuts.

“It’s not like we’re creating what they need to do or how they do it,” he said. “I’m just saying, reinstate what the expectation was eight years ago with the staffing positions.”

If anything, the DOA can let the Legislature know what their actual needs are, he said.

However, Furfaro said he did try to get feedback from Abercrombie, from DOA Director Russell Kokubun and from the Attorney General.

“I really didn’t get any constructive feedback about the reinstatement other than saying, ‘Put the money there,’” he said.

Based on testimony from the DOA, Council Vice Chair Nadine Nakamura said each island has one pesticide inspector. Kauai also used to have an “educator position,” but it was cut years ago, she said.

This position is still present on most islands. On Kauai, the education is currently done by the statewide DOA office.

During Bill 2491 process, Nakamura said she found it takes two to three years to process investigations because there is only one person in the entire state dealing with inspection reports sent from all islands, she said.

“I believe there is a big need, whether it’s within the DOA, or with the Attorney General’s office overseeing the investigations,” Nakamura said. “Some flexibility would be helpful, because that is what is holding up a lot of the investigations.”

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