House learns of new land leases inside the Pago airport compound

New leases subject to review by FAA
fili@samoanews.com

New land leases inside the Pago Pago International Airport compound are subject to review by the Federal Aviation Administration, with three new leases expected to add more than $140,000 a year to the ASG coffers.

However, Rep. Kitara Vaeau claims that the FAA “has no business” when it comes to these lands that are under the territorial government purview, in accordance with local law.

During a House committee hearing late week, House Vice Speaker Fetu Fetui Jr., inquired about a new structure being built on land inside the airport fence — across the street from the Veterans Memorial Stadium.

Fetui claims the new structure has now blocked the “ocean view” from the Ili’ili/ Airport road.

Port Administration director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Poumele explained that the structure under construction is for a company that is leasing airport land. Additionally all land in this area of the airport will be for businesses such as warehouses. Additionally, another company is seeking to build a structure around the same area.

And if a company requests to lease land in that area, that firm’s plan is submitted to the FAA for review and approval before construction begins, she said, adding that the company with the building under construction has submitted their plan and it was approved by the FAA for construction of a warehouse.

Taimalelagi didn’t identify the company by name or how much they would be paying for the land lease during the hearing.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries, on behalf of Taimalelagi, Port’s Airport Finance Division, Miranda Schuster revealed that the airport has three new land leases, erecting projects across from the stadium.

“We have two detached lots leasing out to Forsgren Ltd and South Pacific Distributors, Inc. for wholesale warehouses,” Schuster said yesterday, and noted that these two lots consist of one acre each. “In addition, we have 5 acres - more or less - leasing out to ASPA for its photovoltaic grid systerm.”

“Each tenant is paying the probable price of the FMV — Fair Market Value — which is currently at .45 cents per square footage,” she said. “These three new developments will bring in an additional revenue of $143,406.35 a year for the American Samoa Government.”

Additionally, lease term for each land lease will be nine years.

FAA APPROVAL

Responding to Samoa News inquiries about FAA approval, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said that under the 2014 Pago Pago International Airport land use audit report, the FAA requested that, “any new proposals must be viewed by the FAA and determined to be compatible with federal requirements and the corrective action plan.”

“It’s not an outright approval, but rather a review of their proposals to ensure they comply with FAA regulations,” he said yesterday from Los Angeles adding that the FAA had issued on Feb. 23, 2017 a “no objection” to the corrective action plan, submitted by ASG following the 2014 land use audit.

During the House committee hearing last week, Vaeau informed Taimalelagi that, “FAA has no business” when it comes to Tafuna airport land, adding that the “only business of the FAA is where the plane lands.”

“But as far as the outskirts of the airport [land] — according to the law — FAA has no business,” he said and told Taimalelagi, “you are the one that controls those lands, not the FAA.”

Vaeau reiterated his claim that the FAA only deals with landing strip, but not land on the outskirts of the airport. “Right now, it seems the FAA is trying to reach everything within the airport,” he added.

Asked for comment to Vaeau’s claims that the “FAA has no business” when it comes to airport land, Gregor said the American Samoa Government is bound by Grant Assurances when it accepts federal funds under the Airport Improvement Program (AIP).

He cited provisions of the FAA Land Use Audit letter, which was issued on Dec. 9, 2014 that states: “Federal law authorizes programs for providing federal funds and other assistance to local communities for the development of airport facilities.”

“In exchange for assistance, airport sponsors assume certain obligations, either by contract or by restrictive covenants in property deeds, to maintain and operate their airport facilities safely and efficiently and in accordance with specified conditions,” the letter says.

“Commitments assumed by airport sponsors in property conveyance or grant agreements are important factors in maintaining a high degree of safety and efficiency in airport design, construction, operation and maintenance, as well as ensuring the public fair and reasonable access to the airport for aeronautical purposes.”

The FAA land use audit was covered extensively in 2015 by Samoa News based on the letter referred to by Gregor as well as other documents, which were part of the more than 100 pages of the audit report.

ASG was required to submit to the FAA a corrective action plan following the audit report, and it did. The plan was accepted by the FAA, which is now monitoring the action plan implemented by ASG. (See Samoa News edition Feb. 28, 2017 on the latest update story on the land use audit.)

Among the concerns raised in the FAA land use audit letter is that the “airport today may not be receiving fair market value rental rates from tenants who presently use airport property for non-aeronautical commercial purposes.”

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