J.Kalani English

Statewide emergency work force begins hiring

70 apply on Maui so far in effort to fight mosquitoes, pests

The Maui News
Thursday, November 29, 2001

Staff Writer

WAILUKU — About 70 people in Maui County have applied for jobs offered through the new Emergency Environmental Workforce, established by the state Legislature to battle dengue fever and invasive plants and creatures.

More jobs are still available. County Economic Development Coordinator Rosalyn Baker said Wednesday that officials are pleased with the response and are hoping to have teams in the field next week. There are about 100 positions available in Maui County and 227 statewide, with workers being paid $9.96 an hour.

The citizen work force is being created with $1.5 million allocated by the Legislature during its recent special session. The program was proposed by Maui Sen. J. Kalani English and state Rep. Brian Schatz of Oahu.

Workers are being hired on a three-month basis to target areas where mosquitoes might breed and spread dengue fever. The work force will also aid efforts to eradicate invasive species including the miconia weed, fire ants and the noisy coqui frog.

Those hired are being paid as temporary employees of the Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii (RCUH), which is helping to coordinate the effort.

Nelson Sakamoto, director of human resources for the RCUH, said as of Wednesday 355 applications have been received statewide. There are 97 positions allocated for Maui County, he said, including two on Lanai and five on Molokai. As of Wednesday evening, 63 applications have been received from Maui residents along with six from Molokai.

Sakamoto said cooperation between local and state agencies has allowed the work force to take shape rapidly. Those coordinating the teams want to get workers in the field by next week, which would give the employees their first full paycheck on Dec. 21, the Friday before Christmas.

"Everyone is really pushing to get this off the ground," he said, naming Maui Mayor James "Kimo" Apana and English as prime catalysts in the Maui County effort. "It's been interesting to see the cooperation between the agencies. You can't lose on something like this — I think everyone stands to gain."

The battle against dengue fever, which has affected dozens of people in Maui County, consists largely of eliminating or treating pools of standing water where mosquitoes might breed. Dengue is spread by mosquitoes that bite an infected person and then spread the disease to others.

The manual labor involved in the fight — which includes draining pools and hauling away garbage like old tires and abandoned cars — has largely been handled by volunteers up to now.

Having a paid labor force focusing on the problem should lead to a coordinated effort targeting areas with the biggest problems, organizers report.

English is hoping the Legislature will see the long-term benefits of the work force and finance continued work next year.

Baker reported that a recruitment meeting held in Hana on Monday resulted in about 30 applications being turned in. Another 20 applications came from the Central Maui area this week, she said.

In East Maui, the area hardest hit by the outbreak of dengue fever, the work teams are being developed under the supervision of Ohana Makamae, a nonprofit group that helps residents of East Maui.

The agency is accepting applications and even had a couple of representatives going door-to-door in Hana to let people know of a job opportunity that also helps out the community.

"We were very pleased with the response," said Ray Henderson, executive director of Ohana Makamae.

Henderson said there will be at least three work teams operating in East Maui focusing on mosquito eradication, each having 10 workers and a supervisor.

His agency will be helping to coordinate the field work, which will also include direction from the Maui Invasive Species Committee and the state Department of Health as other teams fan out to address hot spots around the county.

Recruitment by Ohana Makamae will end at noon on Friday, Henderson reported. The agency's phone number is 248-8538.

Hana and the rest of East Maui have been pounded by a series of events over the last few months that has its economic base reeling.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 led to a steep drop in tourism, which was intensified as the news spread of the outbreak of dengue fever centered in Hana.

The latest blow is a months-long construction project to repair portions of the Hana Highway.

The famous road to Hana will be restricted to one lane for several hours a day in the construction zone, and completely shut down for several hours in the mornings and afternoons. 

Henderson said the jobs available through the work force couldn't have come at a better time.

"We're excited to get started and real thankful that they passed the bill" creating the EEWF, Henderson said. "It happened at a great time — this will immediately give people jobs."

There are still positions available throughout the state.

Prospective workers can fill out applications at any Workforce Development Division of the state Department of Labor & Industrial Relations.

On Maui, the division can be reached at 984-2091. Workers are also being sought on Molokai and Lanai. The Molokai Workforce Development Division can be reached at 553-1755, and the phone number for the Rural Development Project office on Lanai is 565-8089.

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