Local infrastructure wish list revised, after White House call-in last month

fili@samoanews.com

Cabinet directors have been asked to “review your newer lists” of “shovel ready projects” for construction, as the American Samoa Government anticipates the Trump Administration’s solicitation of such projects.

During a cabinet meeting last December, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga revealed that a letter has gone out to ASG agencies and semi autonomous entities to provide the list of infrastructure projects and their priorities. He said the Trump administration was at the time already making a promise of improvements to infrastructure for the US including American Samoa.

A few weeks later the governor reiterated the need for such a list of infrastructure “shovel ready projects” so that American Samoa’s needs are given to the Interior Department as well as other federal agencies.

As a result, as of Feb. 13, there is now a 23-page summary of “shovel ready” Capital Improvement and Infrastructure projects that shows an estimated cost of just over $475 million in proposed projects from ASG’s 17 departments, offices and semi autonomous agencies.

However, the Governor’s Office is now asking departments and entities to revisit their projects. The request was made in an email message earlier this month from Jerome Ierome, the administrator of the Capital Improvement Projects as well as the Governor’s Special Programs.

The email message revealed that on Mar. 23 there was a White House call-in led by Lt. Gov. Lemanu Palepoi Sialega Mauga; and while there are no details given of the call, Lemanu has now asked cabinet members to “revisit your shovel ready projects” and “re-submit for governor's review your newer list of projects that are ‘ready’ to begin construction — shovel ready projects.”

Ierome reminded cabinet members “this is an effort to compile a list of ‘shovel ready’ projects in anticipating any solicitation from the Trump Administration's direction.”

While the list of projects may be changed, based on Ierome’s email message, the Feb. 13 list reveals several major projects proposed by ASG entities for development that have been on the drawing board for a while; and if or when implemented, will not only add new jobs for the local workforce, but also create an infrastructure to build future development plans on.

For example, according to the Feb. 13 list, the American Samoa Visitors Bureau has the highest estimated costs of projects at $118.3 million for tourism development, such as $50 million to develop a dedicated berthing pier for cruise ships — behind the Tedi of Samoa building as well as $20 million each to rebuild the cable car to Mt. Alava and development of new marine facilities and rebuild the Malaloa fishing pier.

At the Port Administration Department, the agency’s estimated costs total $54.2 million and includes upgrades for the wharfs in Manu’a, and $15 million for an air traffic control tower, which has long been an issue of discussion with the Port Admin and FAA officials.

In the area of health care, both the LBJ Medical Center and Health Department listed their priority projects, such as renovation to current facilities, with estimated cost for LBJ at $30.7 million, while DOH is at $14.2 million.  Of note, there is however no proposal for a new hospital, as has long been rumored.

Interestingly, projects for the American Samoa TeleCommunications Authority (ASTCA) have an estimated cost of $35.3 million, and includes project funding for the new Hawaiki undersea fiber optic cable, which is expected to be live next year.

For example, $26.6 million is for the “Hawaiki Branch Unit & Spur” project, which calls for the “purchase of submarine cable to replace ASH Cable and connect American Samoa to the US mainland.”

Samoa News should point out that ASG is the minority shareholder of the ASH Cable- American Samoa Hawai’i Cable LLC, that currently connects American Samoa to the US, and there is a recent loan from the ASG Employees Retirement Fund to ASTCA of $4.7 million for the first two payments for the undersea fiber optic cable Hawaiki cable project.

Other entities with projects, on the list, include the Department of Public Works, the American Samoa Power Authority, Education Department, Commerce Department, Shipyard Service Authority, Development Bank of American Samoa, Administrative Services, Parks and Recreation and local Homeland Security.

Samoa News wasn’t able to confirm at press time if a revised list of shovel ready projects has been submitted to the Governor’s Office.

BACKGROUND

Early this year, the Trump administration proposed $1 trillion in infrastructure for the nation.

During a US House committee hearing last month focusing on improving and expanding infrastructure in Tribal and Insular Communities, Interior Department’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas, Nikolao Pula told congressional members that the governors of Guam, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands assert that the capital improvement needs in the U.S. territories amount to over $1 billion.

However, it was unclear at the hearing how the Trump administration will share the $1 trillion in infrastructure with the territories, which are allocated a total of $27.7 million in CIP funding for FY 2017 from which American Samoa was allocated $9.7 million.

It’s also unknown at this time, how the budget released by the Trump administration this week will affect the territories, as it cuts regional funding for infrastructure projects and focuses on funding projects with national scope, according to Mick Mulvaney, director of the US Office of Management and Budget.

Of interest, is the forthcoming “executive branch infrastructure plan” — announced by Mulvaney — which would be funded by stripping infrastructure funding from federal agencies, with the White House set to play a key role in what projects would be funded.

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