If FEMA suspends flood insurance, CIP funds will also be held
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region IX Administrator, Robert Fenton is open and willing to work with the American Samoa Government to “fashion mutually beneficial solutions” regarding the proposed new two-story multi-million-dollar Fono building.
However, at least one of the possible solutions may not happen until next year February, while the other points to FEMA and DOI trying to find funds for the necessary changes to the new building that would then meet federal regulations.
This is according to a Nov. 19th report by Lt. Gov. Lemanu Palepoi Sialega Mauga to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga following meetings in Washington D.C. and the FEMA regional office in Oakland, California.
In his Aug. 20th letter, Fenton raised with Governor Lolo concerns over the new Fono building, which he says does not comply with federal regulations. Failure to comply with federal regulations, Fenton wrote, means a loss of federal funding in the millions of dollars from FEMA, if another disaster occurs in American Samoa.
Among the issues discussed with US Department of Interior officials during an Oct. 30th meeting in the nation’s capital, was FEMA’s concerns with the construction of the new Fono building.
At the onset of the meeting, Interior Assistant Secretary of Insular and International Affairs, Douglas Domenech said, “there is very little that DOI can do if FEMA suspends” American Samoa from the federal National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), “if FEMA maintains its position that we are in violation of FEMA rules and regulations,” according to Lemanu’s report.
“If this happens, all federal funding — including CIP funds — will not be released to us,” Lemanu said. (CIP funds come from DOI).
Domenech shared with the ASG delegation that the Fono building issue was in fact discussed with Fenton and DOI’s request to FEMA “was to find a common solution that is mutually acceptable to both parties,” the report states.
Furthermore, Domenech expressed “sensitivity to the challenges connected with this issue — lack of land, absence of funding, cultural demands, and historical nature of the site; but FEMA is claiming that American Samoa is violating federal law in which case, DOI is helpless.”
According to Lemanu, ASG raised with DOI the issue of needed additional funding associated with FEMA’s insistence to place the building on piles, and given the lack of available funding, ASG will have no recourse but to depend on DOI and FEMA for financial assistance.”
ASG also informed DOI of the scheduled meeting early last month with Fenton in which Domenech was pleased and requested for a report back on the outcomes of the FEMA meeting.
According to the report, the meeting with Fenton “went well, given his openness and willingness to fashion mutually beneficial solutions which are compliant with existing federal laws and the requirements” of the NFIP.
The report provides a brief summary of the outcome of the discussions. For example, FEMA is willing to work with the Fono building architect — who is Mark Lively — “to see how we can tweak the building design to meet NFIP and floodplain management compliance requirements."
ASG informed Fenton that the design “was based on the most recent and historical disaster damages data, and the resulting design addressed the risks from earthquakes, hurricanes, and coastal flooding to tsunami and wave surge from hurricanes.”
Regarding the absence of funds to finance any mitigation costs due to foundation design amendments, the report says that Fenton expressed his willingness to find federal funding and would collaborate with DOI on this effort, should this become necessary.
Additionally, Fenton informed ASG that FEMA is in the process of revisiting the Disaster Hazard Maps, along with revising said maps, utilizing current disaster data.
“It is possible that the designation of the Fono building from the VE Zone could change the complexion of this project,” the report said. “The only setback is that this work will not be completed until February next year.”
Fenton had informed the governor that it appears that the construction of the new Fono building is on a site that is in a Flood Zone VE, which is the “highest-risk flood zone, subject to damaging forces of high waves and high wind.”
During a cabinet meeting late last month, Lolo told cabinet members that the Department of Public Works is working with the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the building’s architect to make sure that FEMA “understands where we are, what we are doing, and why we did the things we did.”
Lolo also made clear that “we haven’t changed our position,” and the government is moving forward with the construction phase.
“Right now, as far as I know, we haven’t violated any rules,” Lolo said, adding that any changes FEMA wants to make, they should provide funds so the changes can be made. “They’d like to make changes, and hopefully they will help us find funds to make those changes. But if they don’t, we will just continue to build.”