FALEOMAVAEGA FIGHTS MCDONALD’S AT BEACH PARK

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FALEOMAVAEGA FIGHTS MCDONALD’S AT BEACH PARK

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, July 2) - Congressman Faleomavaega has conveyed to the secretary of the Department of Interior his hope that the federal agency will give serious attention to the Utulei Beach Park controversy, and that the park will not be converted for a restaurant since McDonald's can choose from five other locations in the eastern district.

McDonald's American Samoa CEO/President Rep. Agaoleatu Charlie Tautolo declined to comment about the congressman's letter, saying he wasn't one of the individuals copied in the letter.

The congressman expressed these views in a letter to DOI Secretary Dirk Kempthorne on Thursday, June 29. The letter was based on a recent meeting in California between Gov. Togiola Tulafono, Office of Insular Affairs (OIA), and the National Park Service, a division of DOI that administers the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Act.

The result of the meeting was a commitment from DOI "to a framework that will lead to a formal park and recreation statute for ASG" and also revealed that Togiola will be finding land to replace the land on Utulei Beach that ASG leased to McDonald's for its second restaurant.

Faleomavaega believes that given strict guidelines put in place by the federal government concerning the conversion of public outdoor recreation lands for commercial use, the local government will not find any land in the Territory that will meet the federal requirements.

Among other things, the guidelines of the LWCF Act, which protects public parks like Utulei Beach, requires replacement lands for the land leased to McDonald's to be of the "same market value" and of "reasonably equivalent usefulness and location."

"ASG lands are lands held in public trust by the people and I do not believe it is in the interest of our people for ASG to have to give up multiple parcels of land in order for one business owner to be able to construct a McDonald's at Utulei Beach," the congressman said. "I also do not believe there is any land in American Samoa that reaches the standard of reasonably equivalent usefulness and location."

Faleomavaega noted that NPS, which administers the LWCF, has repeatedly informed his office that "to its knowledge there is no land in American Samoa that meets the criteria for conversion to take place."

Faleomavaega also relayed to Kempthorne his hopes that "there will be no more meetings held behind closed doors given that the public wants to know what federal and local officials are doing to resolve this problem."

He said he was pleased that the governor "has now publicly acknowledged that his proposal to construct a McDonald's at Utulei Beach was in violation of federal requirements and ASG's agreement with the NPS."

The congressman said the federal law under LWCF now leaves the governor with two options: either propose construction of a McDonald's at a site other than Utulei Beach or give up valuable ASG land of similar value and recreational use in order to commercially develop Utulei Beach if he can find ASG land that meets the strict criteria set forth for conversion.

Faleomavaega said NPS has already spent $400,000 to protect the intended purposes of Utulei Beach and about $4 million total to preserve other lands including Utulei, Tafuna and Onesosopo parks for recreational purposes and not for commercial development.

"Until this matter is resolved, I request that my office be kept informed of the current consultations between NPS/OIA and ASG and I sincerely hope that we will find a reasonable solution to a local issue that should never have escalated into a federal problem," he wrote.

The congressman's letter also included a copy of the "framework" for resolution between ASG and the NPS that came out of the meeting between Togiola, and DOI officials.

July 4, 2006

The Samoa News: http://www.samoanews.com/

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