State roundup for March 28


Maui battling invasive ants

KAHULUI, Maui (AP) — Maui officials say fire ants pose a significant threat to the island even though fewer have been seen since the start of this year. Public complaints about the invasive insects have slowed since January.

Maui Invasive Species Committee Manager Teya Penniman said officials will be in watch mode on an ongoing basis because the ants will keep coming from the Big Island unless they’re stopped.

“The reality is they’re out there,” Penniman said. “We just don’t know where they are.”

An infestation at Maui garden shops in December was traced back to shipments of Hawaiian tree ferns at two home improvement stores. Customers who bought the plants were asked to check their homes for the ants.

The ants have been a problem on the Big Island for 15 years. They threaten agriculture and tourism.

State lawmakers are considering spending $500,000 to eradicate the fire ant using several methods, including canines to detect the insects.

Penniman said specialists from Australia are expected to come in May to share their techniques with the dogs.

She said people need to be careful about what they bring to Maui from the Big Island.

Eight state inspectors on Maui have been focused on detecting the insects in shipments.

Military families get power relief

HONOLULU (AP) — The Navy is reducing electricity-rate increases for military families in privatized housing on Oahu after complaints.

Concerns raised by sailors, Navy leaders and lawmakers helped bring relief from a 123 percent increase in electric bills, Navy Region Hawaii spokesman Bill Doughty said.

About 1,300 Navy and Marine Corps families who saw the hefty hike starting in October will get their rates dialed back to a 56 percent increase beginning Tuesday.

According to housing contractor Forest City Military Communities, the rate for military residents changed from 26.3 cents per kilowatt-hour in the 2013 fiscal year to 58.7 cents at the start of the 2014 fiscal year.

The new rate will be 41.8 cents for military residents who get their electricity through Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii.

The original increase was prompted by a Pentagon-mandated requirement to make up in one year tens of millions in electricity undercharges incurred from 2009 to 2013.

The group of concerned leaders who raised the issue with the Defense Department and the Navy included Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Doughty said in an email.

“Many sailors and Navy active duty and civilian leaders throughout the chain of command expressed their concerns,” Doughty said.

Military families who rent from Forest City already saw about 13 percent of their substantial housing allowances automatically go toward electricity, water, sewer and gas in 2013. The Navy creates an average electricity bill, and those whose consumption is more than 110 percent of that average must pay the higher rates.

 

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