Am. Samoa Government To Work With FAA To Transfer Lands

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Port Administration out of compliance with federal rules

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Jan. 20, 2016) – With the American Samoa government wanting to transfer some 300 acres considered airport land to other ASG entities, Port Administration director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Tuia Poumele says there is a federal process involved for land transfer from one entity to another and the local government will work closely with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to accomplish the transfer.

According to an FAA release in December 2014, ASG didn’t comply with requirements in provisions of federal grants when 325 acres of land, initially dedicated for the airport, were transferred to other ASG agencies without FAA approval. This land has since been used for various purposes including housing, Tafuna Industrial Park, government facilities and commercial leases.

Besides the 325 acres, the land use audit also covered the airport tank farm relocation, fire training center, and the scrap metal yard.

The land use audit and ASG’s corrective action plan, which is now due Feb. 15 this year, was among the issues ASG officials including Taimalelagi discussed early this month in Hawai’i with Ron V. Simpson, manager of the FAA Honolulu Airports District Office.

Taimalelagi said this week that the land use audit involves many ASG agencies. "This is not just an airport issue," she said and emphasized that the land in question belongs to the American Samoa Government.

She also stressed that the ownership of the property is not the issue as airport property belongs to ASG. "However, there is 325 acres that is on the map and was designated for airport purposes that no longer is within the perimeter fence," she said. And this includes land that houses the Industrial park, Lions Park and areas in Tafuna — such as the land, which houses ASPA, Procurement Office, McDonald’s Restaurant, ASTCA and the Veterans Memorial Stadium, she said.

"The ASG needs to inform FAA through the set process that we would like to transfer the 325 acres from airport to another government agency — which is Commerce Department," she said. Additionally, there is a federal process to transfer the land from one entity to another.

"That is why we need to work closely with FAA to have the property transferred out of the airport agreement," she said, adding that this requires the involvement of Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale and Commerce director Keniseli Lafaele.

Besides Taimalelagi, the other three ASG officials who met with Simpson in Hawai’i early this month were Talauega, Lafaele and ASPA executive director Utu Abe Malae.

SCRAP METAL AREA

Taimalelagi also explained that ASG has the issue of the scrap metal area that has not been ruled as in compliance to US Environmental Protection Agency regulations because this area is within the airport area.

According to the Port director, the scrap metal area, which was under the purview of ASPA, still needs to be assessed by an environmental specialist. Further, there may be hazardous material underground that may need to be removed. "Again, this is also a government issue," she said.

In its land audit report, the FAA recommends that ASG formulate a plan to undertake an environmental site assessment of the scrap metal area to determine what measures need to be taken so it can be prepared and marketed for airport use as it represents a prime aeronautical area for air cargo development.

ARFF TRAINING CENTER

The FAA awarded the Port Administration $15 million for the Aircraft Rescue and fire Fighting (ARFF) facility project in 2009 at the Tafuna airport. Taimalelagi said the intent was to provide a training center that would attract firefighters in the Pacific Rim to conduct training here.

"The ARFF training center is the most expensive and valuable asset at the Pago Pago International Airport," she notes. "One of the issues in the corrective action plan is to present a plan as to how and when we will operate the hot fire training facility for firefighters from other island countries."

"Since the hot fire training facility was not utilized or maintained professionally since 2009, we addressed this immediately in 2013," she said. "Our goal is to offer professional training for all firemen in American Samoa.

And it will include firemen from local entities such as the DPS fire bureau, Emergency Medical Service, Cost Guard, the canneries, the National Park of American Samoa etc. "The training activities will commence by June, 2016," she said.

FUEL TANKS

Regarding the relocation of fuel tanks from the airport to the area by the Pala Lagoon, Taimalelagi said this project is underway and the design of the relocation of fuel tanks is completed. Further, Port Administration is working closely with the American Samoa Petroleum Cooperative, which oversees the ASG fuel tank facility, to make this long overdue project a reality.

ASG has already allocated $5 million in proceeds from bonds sales by the American Samoa Economic Development Authority towards this project.

DRAFT CORRECTIVE ACTION PLAN

Taimalelagi revealed that the Port Administration had already completed a draft corrective action plan, sought by the FAA, and it was submitted in February last year.

"However, we still needed a collaborative approach from the government agencies that are involved with the issues," she explained. "Thus, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga tasked Talauega, Lafaele and Utu to work with Port on a viable plan to present to FAA."

She said this plan was discussed during the recent meeting with Simpson in Honolulu. "We now will prepare the official corrective action plan to be submitted by Feb. 15 this year," she said and dismissed rumors circulating that she initiated the land use audit review to create dissension with the FAA.

"What was initiated in 2013 was an aggressive request for additional funding to improve the infrastructure of American Samoa airports — Pago Pago International, Fitiuta and Ofu airports," she explained.

As a result, she said, Port was granted $1.9 million to erect the perimeter fence at the Fitiuta Airport and the $4.7 million for the ARFF building in Ofu, which was dedicated July last year. "We are expecting two new fire trucks next month which cost approximately $1.5 million," she said. "All of the new funding which we aggressively pursued for 2016 (about $15 million) ‘could’ be made available as a result of our due diligence in addressing the land use audit report."

"The Port is confident that our response to the land use audit and other issues will lead to the Port receiving discretional grants to improve our airports. We received over $8 million in 2014-2015," she added.

BACKGROUND

Samoa News first asked FAA about the status of this matter in late October of 2015 seeking information on the ASG corrective action plan. But a Jan. 6, 2016 letter from Ron V. Simpson, manager of the FAA Honolulu Airports District Office to the ASG Port Director reveals that such a plan had not been filed.

In the letter, Simpson informed ASG Port Administration director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Tuia Poumele that FAA had not received a corrective action plan from ASG advising FAA of actions ASG would take to address the audit’s findings.

"In November 2015, we discussed ASG’s Capital Improvement Plan for Pago Pago International Airport," Simpson wrote to Taimalelagi. "During our meeting, we discussed ASG’s request for approximately $15 million in FY 2016 Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding to pay for needed airport improvements."

"We are very concerned about the ASG unresponsiveness to address these important audit findings," said Simpson, and advised Taimalelagi that "although we support these improvements for ASG, discretionary funding under AIP will be contingent upon satisfactory progress by ASG to address the findings of the land use audit."

According to Simpson, if ASG wishes to be considered for FY 2016 AIP funding, "we will need to receive an acceptable corrective action plan along with an update of progress that has been made towards compliance by Feb. 15, 21016. We will not consider your future funding requests until this is resolved."

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