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Governor looks at CIP money for custom Manu’a boat

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has halted any further action to purchase an ASG vessel to operate between the Manu’a Island group while the Capital Improvement Committee has been asked to earmark CIP funds to start the process of designing a brand new vessel.

Prior to taking over the helm of government, Lolo — then governor-elect — had appealed to then Gov. Togiola Tulafono to hold back on the purchase of an ASG boat for the Manu’a islands until the Lolo administration takes office. The passenger/cargo boat would be purchased with U.S. Federal Transit Administration funds which were secured by the local Department of Public Works.

However, Togiola continued to move forward with such a purchase — an ASG task force team, headed by local marine consultant Capt. Wallace Thompson, traveled to the mainland to inspect the boats recommended by the Togiola administration.

Reached by telephone yesterday on the status of its off-island trip, Thompson said the task force worked closely with the U.S. Coast Guard during the “inspections” of the boats recommended by the government last year.

“I didn’t endorse any boats that were inspected for the government and my report is already submitted to Public Works regarding the inspection,” said Thompson, adding that the task force team returned to the territory about two weeks ago.

“The boats that were recommended by ASG for me to inspect didn’t meet Coast Guard requirements and they were old boats— about 20 to 30 years old,” he said. “There were boats at the site that were fit for Manu’a but I don’t think the government has sufficient funds for such a purchase.”

“At the same time, I still maintain my earlier recommendation, which is for the government to buy a brand new boat, and make sure there are sufficient funds to maintain the vessel,” he said. “For the current ASG vessel MV Sili, I do hope that Port Administration continues to maintain this vessel to serve the Manu’a Islands, instead of spending hundreds of dollars to charter vessels from Samoa.”

During his State of the Territory Address on Monday this week, Lolo publicly announced that he has “issued a stop notice” on any future action on this project.

Since these funds have restricted use guidelines, Public Works director-appointee Faleosina Voight was instructed to reprogram these funds to uses authorized by the federal grantor, he said.

At the same time, Lolo has asked the new CIP chairman, Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Sialega Mauga to earmark funds from the re-grants or fiscal year 2013 capital improvement funds to begin the process of designing a brand new vessel to serve the Manu’a islands with subsequent earmarks to facilitate the construction of the vessel.

In his Nov. 28, 2012 appeal letter to Togiola regarding this project, Lolo  said, “It is my preference to design a new vessel for Manu’a from scratch incorporating all of the features that would address the cargo, fuel and passenger needs of Manu’a,” and noted in the long run, this scenario will pay off.

As for the ASG vessel Fo’isia, Lolo said he has instructed the Procurement Office to prepare the appropriate documents to sell this boat to recoup some money to address the transportation needs of the Manu’a Islands.

The Fo’isia has been sitting idly along the main dock unable to provide any ocean transportation for a long time due to engine problems.

For air transport, the governor is exploring the best way to utilize the ASG plane, Segaula to address needs of Manu’a in the short turn. While the aircraft is not authorized to operate as a commercial carrier except for government related trips, the Lolo administration is looking at the feasibility of leasing the aircraft to a commercial carrier possessing the required FAA licenses to immediately provide services to both Ofu and Ta’u islands.

However, Lolo is concerned the government does not have the financial capacity to withstand a liability suit if a passenger is hurt. “It is also the policy of this administration to divest functions which should be in private sector hands,” he said.

Locally based Inter Island Airways resumed flights to Ta’u island over the weekend after parts for the aircraft arrived.