After 5 years, state finds $5,000 to reduce veterans cemetery mosquito problem

After 5 years, state finds $5,000 to reduce veterans cemetery mosquito problem

KANEOHE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A relatively cheap and simple solution to a mosquito problem at the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe has been delayed five years because of the state's bad financial situation, state officials said Tuesday.  But changes are under way this week.

"My mom's is right here.  Ever since she was buried here in 2001, we were trying to move her up," said Wesley Kitajima of Honolulu, as he showed Hawaii News Now his mother Marian's grave. It's the second-to-last-row of grave markers just before a densely-forested ravine at the cemetery, on Oahu's rainy windward side.

At least six rows of graves sat under a heavy overhang of a monkey pod tree, with some branches just six or seven feet off the ground.

It makes for dark, wet conditions where mosquitoes proliferate.  For years, the bugs have swarmed and bitten people visiting graves near the forested area.

"It's a disgrace," Kitajima said. "If you can't even come here and enjoy spending time with your deceased, I mean, what good is it to even have this"

He said the lack of sun also means the grass doesn't grow in the last few rows of grave markers, just weeds.  Kitajima said he and his family brought in their own grass and planted it around his mother's grave, but it died in the lack of sunlight under the canopy of the monkey pod tree.

"Unless we get something that just totally grows with no sunlight.  Nothing grows here.  Just all these weeds," Kitajima said.

On Monday, contractors began trimming the trees and cutting back the vegetation in that troubled corner of the cemetery, a job that's costing $5,000.

"We don't want family members and veterans coming to visit their family members to be in that kind of a situation," said Ron Han, director of the state Office of Veterans Services.

Cemetery officials have been asking for the funds to trim the trees for five years, stretching back to the administration of former Governor Linda Lingle, since May of 2008. But because of budget restrictions during the recession, state officials said, they ever got the tree trimming money.

"It's never been taken off our radar.  As long as we have the resources, as we can go out there and make it work, that's always been our intent," Han said, noting that veterans services officials kept asking for the money, documenting the problem, sending emails and taking photographs of the situation for years.

State veterans officials would like to cut back the trees farther into the dense gully and hope to do so in the next year or two.

"In our budget, we have that as part of a sustainment piece for operating and maintenance, so we do have some money to pull back and look at it every year," Han said, after state lawmakers set aside more money this year for operations and maintenance of the state's veterans cemeteries.

The tree trimming helped reduce the mosquito problem, but Hawaii News Now's reporter and photographer were still bitten by the critters Tuesday, even though they wore insect repellent.  The problem improved from Friday, before the trees were trimmed, when the news crew and Kitajima were swarmed with dozens of mosquitoes.

State veterans cemetery officials said they originally wanted to spend $15,000 on a much deeper trimming of the trees and the vegetation in 2008, but had to cancel a request for bids because of state budget restrictions.

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