Big Isle breaks
ground for ag center
HILO >> Twenty years ago, federal officials started to think about the need to unify their scattered agricultural research efforts in Hawaii, U.S. Agricultural Research Service Administrator Edward Knipling said yesterday.
Ten years ago, the closure of two of the Big Island's sugar plantations demonstrated the need for more aid to agriculture, said state Rep. Dwight Takamine.
Yesterday, state and federal officials broke ground for the $20 million first phase of the Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center, to be operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on land belonging to the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
Actual construction starts in December with completion expected in July 2006, said Dennis Gonsalves, center director.
The first phase will provide facilities for up to 85 current employees now working at four locations on three islands, officials said.
A second phase, bringing the total investment to $60 million, would allow new hiring to bring the number of employees to nearly 200, Gonsalves said.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who obtained funding for the first phase, said, "I am committed to securing the full $60 million." He did not estimate when that would occur.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service is already constructing its own research center on university land adjoining the agricultural center, said Administrator Boone Kauffman. Construction on the $12 million facility for a staff of 30 started in April and is scheduled for completion in June, he said.
Both facilities will be immediately mauka of the university site, which is now home to several astronomical headquarters and the $26 million Mauna Kea Astronomy Education Center, which is under construction.
The agricultural center will research matters such as fruit fly control, nonfood uses for sugar cane, and improving fruit and flower crops, Gonsalves said.
The forestry center will focus on controlling invasive species and restoring native forests, Kauffman said.