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DPW: Airport Road delay now on Whitehorn’s shoulders

The status of the Airport Road Project was the main issue raised yesterday during a hearing before the House Committee on Public Works, chaired by Rep. Atualevao Gafatasi Afalava. The lone witness was Public Works acting director Faleosina Faiai Voight.

Rep. Puletu Dick Koko was the first to take the floor, urging Voight to ensure that Public Works is on the ball for this project to proceed sooner than later, as this portion of the road system is highly traveled and is becoming worse by the day.

“It was my understanding that this project was going to commence sometime late last year but to this day, there is still no major progress, except for the small areas that have been cleared on the side of the road,” Puletu said.

Voight explained that absolutely no underground or excavation work can be done without Public Works first approving the materials that are going to be used for the project.

(Federally funded projects come with a list of standards that must be upheld when it comes to materials and supplies).

Voight explained that the contractor, Whitehorn Construction, has 330 days to complete the project once it commences and at that rate, the project should be completed this year around October.

She said that the delay in the project was because the land use permit had expired, and a new one wasn’t issued until last Wednesday. However, even with a valid land use permit, the contractors still need to submit essential paperwork that includes the list of materials so Public Works can review them and issue an approval.

Voight said that she meets with the contractor on a weekly basis. She explained that although the land use permit had expired, the contractor could have used that time to forward some of the necessary submittals but unfortunately, this did not happen. She said that if the submittals were processed and granted approval during that time, the project would have commenced as soon as the new land use permit was issued last week. However, even with a valid land use permit, work still cannot proceed until all the submittals are approved by Public Works.

(The first land use permit was issued for this project in October 2011. However, the Notice to Proceed wasn’t issued until November 2012, over a year after the land use permit was issued. Head of the PNRS board Marvis Vaiaga’e has already explained that land use permits are valid for two years, but only if the work commences within a year’s time. If not, the permit is only good for one year.)

Faipule Rep. Vui Florence Vaili Saulo in her comments to Voight said her district is home to 22,000 people and the Airport Road is situated in her district. She said she is saddened with the fact that an off-island company that has yet to establish a name in the territory has been awarded the contract for such a big job.

She said the Airport Road is perhaps the most important section of road in the territory and her pleas to have the road fixed is not just for the benefit of the Tualauta people but also the entire population as a whole.

Vui explained that when people travel from off island to the territory, for whatever reason, the first part of Tutuila they get to experience is the Airport Road, and that is why it is of utmost importance to get the road fixed.

The multi-million-dollar airport road project was awarded to Whitehorn Construction, a company based out of Lake Elsinore, California. The company has a local office and won the contract after bidding $4 million less than McConnell Dowell. Government engineers estimated that the work was going to cost $11.84 million. McConnell Dowell bid $11.03 million, while Whitehorn’s bid came in at $7.99 million. The Federal Highway Administration concurred with the award in October 2012, after Samoa News understands a formal request to review the award was made by McConnell Dowell due to the vast difference in bids.

The award letter, issued last August stated, “Execution of the contract by ASG is subject to Whitehorn Construction obtaining performance and materials and labor payment bonds which are acceptable to ASG… The American Samoa Government anticipates good service and the timely completion of this project from Whitehorn Construction Inc.”