Lolo Details Am. Samoa Infrastructure Issues To OIA

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New transport vessel, dredging, road problems in letter

By Joyetter Feagaimaalii-Luamanu

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Nov. 4, 2013) – A new vessel that'll be used to travel between Tutuila and the Manu'a Island group was one of the issues noted by American Samoa Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga in a letter he sent last week to Eileen Sobeck, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Office of Insular Affairs.

According to Lolo, the Request for Proposal (RFP) for the construction of the new envisioned 140-footer (LCU configuration) with the capacity to transport passengers, containers, vehicles, diesel, mogas, and heavy equipment is reflected in the capital improvement project (CIP) funding priorities for fiscal years 2013 and 2014.

The RFP for the vessel, which will travel at speeds faster than the MV Sili, will be issued the first week of November.

Lolo said that for the first time, the vessel will be designed to meet local needs instead of attempting to fit local needs to an existing vessel which has been an unsuccessful practice of the past.

He said the new vessel is to provide guarantees that future surface transportation to the Manu’a Islands will not be disrupted, which is the case when the MV Sili vessel needs to be repaired.

Dredging of Ta’u, Faleasao & Ofu Harbors

Lolo noted that dredging permits have been transmitted to the US Army Corps of Engineers to facilitate dredging of the existing Manu’a harbors, to minimize hazardous conditions contributing to episodic damages to the MV Sili due to shallow drafts of these harbors, which are magnified at low tide. Dredging will also facilitate more efficient accommodations of the new vessel and prevent disruption of service to the Manu’a Islands.

Expansion of Fitiuta and Ofu airstrip

Manu’a Air, formerly known as the government-owned Segaula, is expected to start services to Ofu and Olosega during the first week of December.

The aircraft is now under lease to the Inter Island Airways Part 135 services to the Manu’a Islands. Meanwhile, the Ofu Airport is not under the FAA administrative auspices because it needs major upgrades. Lolo pointed out that the runway needs to be extended by a minimum of 600 feet; likewise for the Fitiuta airstrip on Ta’u. "To maximize the development of the tourism industry on the Manu’a Islands, these two airports must be upgraded inclusive of the required extensions," said Lolo.

Infrastructure development

The governor wrote that while specific economic infrastructural components have been addressed earlier, other supporting infrastructural systems must be simultaneously addressed and these infrastructural elements are the harbors, airports, and wharfs. He said the remoteness of American Samoa and isolation from the economic mainstream forces the territory to import 96% of all consumable goods.

"The territory’s primary economic engine is its fisheries industry which exclusively depends on fish either off-loaded in the territory or raw fish imports from other areas to sustain canned tuna fish processing operations in American Samoa," said Lolo, adding that the territory prefers that the fishing vessels directly off-load their catches in our port because of the additional economic benefits emanating from vessel purchases not only for provisions but also for fuel.

He noted, "these activities improve American Samoa’s competitive advantage while directly generating commerce in the territory," with other benefits inherent in job creation and an expanded tax base for the government.

According to Lolo, in order to accomplish this economic goal, more docking space should be available to fishing vessels to provide safety as well as minimize the downtime in port which impacts on operating costs of vessels. He said he’s reached out to the US Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a study and funding sources will need to be identified to finance the construction of these new wharfs.

Marine railway

Due to the increased numbers of fishing vessels frequenting the local port, Lolo said the economic potential for greater utilization of our shipyard is magnified.

He said the plan is to improve the quality of workmanship, reduce the amount of downtime the vessel spends on the repair platform, and offer competitive rates in comparison to similar facilities in Fiji and New Zealand, which are the competitors to American Samoa’s slipway.

Lolo said the existence of the ship repair facility provides an additional attraction to fishing vessels to off-load their catches directly in American Samoa. "In our Fiscal Year 2015 CIP requests, $2.5 million is allocated to rehabilitate the 1,000-ton companion slipway laying parallel to the existing rail," Lolo wrote.

"These are strategic investments dedicated to improving the competitive advantage for our tuna fish processing facilities. The aggressive investments by China to construct new fishing vessels to fish in the Pacific threaten the survival of our canneries and necessitate investments in these supporting infrastructural elements."

Public highway

Lolo told Sobeck that American Samoa’s entire main thoroughfare is grossly dilapidated and is a major source of public criticism. He said that since he assumed the leadership reins of ASG he has taken bold steps to begin the process of repairing the most used sections of the roads to avoid potential legal problems for the government.

Much of the work that has been done is deemed temporary fixes awaiting total rehabilitation when funding is available from the Federal Highway Administration. "Since annual funding allocation is limited, the local government must explore other avenues to generate needed funds to expeditiously rehabilitate all territorial roads, and the government will explore funding assistance from the Department of the Interior to supplement FHA funding grants," Lolo continued.

Drainage

Requests have been sent to the US Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a study aimed at resolving the significant flooding problem in the Tafuna Plains area. This challenge is evident immediately after each heavy downpour, said Lolo, adding that the drainage problem will be addressed when the roads are rehabilitated.

"There is concern that this effort will not resolve the flooding problem that is worsening within the Tafuna Plains area, which is the main site of our water aquifers," Lolo wrote. He has requested funding that he says is necessary to implement the recommendations of the flood study.

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