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Coconut rhinoceros killing trees in tourism hub

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

HAGATNA, Guam (Mariana Variety, May 5, 2008) - Delays in funding release and paper processing pose a stumbling block to the Department of Agriculture’s coconut rhinoceros beetle eradication program, DA director Paul Bassler said yesterday.

"Funding is available. The problem is getting the money released and there are a number of steps to be taken before funds are released," Bassler said. "The work is progressing; it’s just a matter of having the ability to get people paid," he added.

Jeff Rios, finance officer for the contractor Maids to Order, said the company’s service agreement with DA is valid until the end of fiscal year but it has suspended work for over a month now because the department has yet to renew the purchase order, which is supposedly renewable after 20 service days.

Bassler said Maids to Order and the project coordinator have not been fully paid for their work pending the Guam State Clearinghouse’s action on invoice requests and other documents required for release of federal funds.

Rios said DA has a very minimal balance that has yet to be paid but MTO is inclined to continue its work with the department once it receives the purchase order renewal.

"There are administrative concerns that they have to take care of and if there are works that need to be continued, they will notify us," Rios said. "At this point, we’re at a standstill."

Rhinoceros beetle infestation was discovered in Tumon Bay and Tamuning, which have been declared as quarantine areas. The invasive specie, which is new to Guam, is causing damage to coconut palms.

The eradication program includes insect trapping, clearing of breeding sites, removal of grubs and fumigation.

The U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service have granted US$400,000 to Guam for the project. The local government partly funds the project with a US$100,000 through an emergency declaration made by Governor Felix P. Camacho last year.

Bassler, however, said the US$100,000 from local fund has not been fully released either.

The DA director said the department has secured additional US$100,000 from the US Forest Service, which would be used for sanitation work.

The rhinoceros beetle eradication project is expected to be fully completed in two years.

"We have completed a lot of work over the past few months. Hopefully, we’re keeping it contained. We can gauge the success of the program if after two years you don’t find anymore insects anywhere," Bassler said.

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