HONOLULU - Ten agriculture inspectors are being hired at Honolulu International Airport to help fight the spread of invasive species and to restore positions lost during layoffs two years ago.
None of the restored positions affect Kahului Harbor or Kahului Airport. Maui has 13 state agricultural inspectors, four fewer than it had in 2009 before layoffs took effect, according to the state Department of Agriculture.
Department spokeswoman Janelle Saneishi said Maui facilities are "pretty well staffed." She pointed out that nine of the 13 current positions are paid for by the state Department of Transportation, which was required to pay for the inspectors as part of an agreement for Kahului Airport that included construction of an alien species inspection facility in recent years.
Other Neighbor Islands are more short-staffed, she said. Kauai has two inspectors, down from 3 in 2009; the Big Island (Hilo and Kona) has nine inspectors, down from 14.
Oahu had 61 agricultural inspectors in 2009, and its staff was cut to 26. The 10 new hires will be added to that work force.
The number of inspectors statewide dropped from 95 prior to layoffs in November 2009 to 50 currently.
With fewer inspectors, the number of airport interceptions of invasive species dropped, according to data from the Agriculture Department's Plant Quarantine Division.
From July to December 2009 (with one of six months including the loss of inspectors), the number of interceptions statewide was 1,457, including 722 on Maui, records show. For the same period in 2010, the number of interceptions dropped by nearly half, to 730, with 639 of those on Maui. On Oahu alone, interceptions fell from 663 to 87.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Wednesday that the new employees on Oahu will increase inspection coverage at the airport, heighten inspection of interisland cargo and decrease overtime.
Abercrombie said he approved their hiring as part of his plan to protect the environment, grow more local food and restore the economy.
The Department of Agriculture said it will cost about $515,000 to restore the 10 positions, including salary and fringe benefits. The positions are paid for by a pest inspection and eradication fund that importers pay into based on cargo weight.
Abercrombie also signed a bill that directs the departments of Agriculture and Transportation to begin the design and construction of biosecurity inspection facilities at airports and harbors.
"Investing in our agricultural inspection activities to prevent the introduction of invasive species will save the state money in the long run," said Russell Kokubun, chairman of the state Board of Agriculture. "Restoring agricultural inspection positions and the construction of the new biosecurity inspection facilities will greatly improve our ability to protect our environment from the irreparable harm of outside threats."