Vog report frustrates growers


POSTED: Wednesday, October 15, 2008

HILO » Protea flower grower Tony Bayaoa has no flower production, no money, and no idea how she's going to afford food for herself and her husband, Sam.

“;Our savings are gone,”; she said.

The Bayaoas, of the Big Island's Kau District, have been wiped out by vog, acidic volcanic fumes that increased roughly tenfold early this year.

So Tony Bayaoa was interested in any solutions proposed in the report released last week by the Special Committee on Vog Effects of the state House of Representatives.

After hearing a brief description, she commented, “;Absolutely nothing.”;

The only agency that has done anything for devastated farmers so far is the U.S. Farm Service Agency, she said.

But even that agency required the Bayaoas to fill out lots of paperwork and still hasn't paid out any money because guidelines for funding of all agricultural products nationwide are still being written in Washington, D.C.

The committee report contains literally dozens of recommendations, some for various government agencies, some for the Legislature when it meets in January.

But Rep. Bob Herkes, chairman of the committee, was just barely more hopeful than Bayaoa.

“;Realistically, what can we do?”; he said.

He agreed that the U.S. Department of Agriculture deserves praise, adding good words for the state Agriculture Department, which has forgiven interest and principal payments on outstanding loans for one year, and the University of Hawaii Agricultural Extension Service, which is looking for any measures that will help farmers.

But farmers can't afford loans, no matter how low the interest, he said.

In the end, farmers may have to be relocated to a less-impacted area, perhaps by land exchanges, he said.

A little bit of good news didn't even get into the report. Chemist Don Thomas at the university Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes told the Star-Bulletin by the time the vog gets to Kona, its sulfuric acid has been changed to ammonium sulfate, a salt that is “;considerably less dangerous”; to people.

But for sensitive people like asthmatics, the salt is still a problem.

The report repeatedly calls for more monitoring. County Civil Defense head Quince Mento said there are roughly 100 portable and stationary monitors already deployed.