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US EPA requests Army Corps to reconsider assistance for Aua

Commenting on Corps “No Further Action” recommendation

The US Army Corps of Engineers has been requested to “consider remediation assistance” to American Samoa during construction of the wastewater project in the village of Aua, to off set costs associated with soil contamination caused by the US Navy, which operated a fuel farm in Aua during World War II.

The request was made by US Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 Infrastructure Section manager Douglas E. Eberhardt in his 4-page June 8 comment letter to the Army Corps who recommended “No Further Action” to be taken in its Aua fuel farm pipeline remedial investigation report.

Early this month, the Army Corps informed American Samoa Power Authority executive director Utu Abe Malae that the federal agency will “take no further action” on an assessment investigation conducted on the Aua pipeline project. The Army Corps concluded that the Aua pipeline project poses “no risk to human health.”  (See Samoa News editions Nov. 22 and 23 for more details.)

In his comment letter, Eberhardt called for the Army Corps to reconsider its decision of taking no further action and the letter also revealed some other specific details of current wastewater work and upcoming ASPA infrastructure work that will by impacted by the Aua pipeline issue. The status of the wastewater project has been the subject of questions from lawmakers in the past three years to ASPA during Fono hearings.

Eberhardt, in his letter, tells the Army Corps that ASPA is undertaking a phased wastewater to sewer project on the eastern side of Pago Pago Harbor, collecting wastewater from unsewered villages and conveying it to the Utulei wastewater treatment plant. Recently ASPA extended wastewater collection past the Satala power plant and tuna canneries to Atu’u village. And this project is funded with $8 million in USEPA funding.

The next phase, projected to start construction in early 2017, will extend wastewater collection from Atu’u to serve Aua with an additional phase to sewer the villages of Onesosopo.

“This $15 million project includes connection of 624 homes in Aua and Onesosopo, under-served, low-income communities,” Eberhardt explained. “Increased project cost due to the presence of or potential for intersecting subsurface petroleum contamination left by [US Navy] would significantly affect the scope of the project to sewer homes along the pipeline route.”

“If left unanswered, these densely populated villages must continue to rely on septic systems that are a source of contamination to groundwater and Pago Pago Harbor water quality,” he argued in his letter.

He also said that it’s “difficult to quantify the increases in cost and financial impact that subsurface contamination in Aua and along the Aua pipeline” will have on providing basic wastewater collection service. Additionally, increased construction costs can be expected due to costs associated with handling and disposing of contaminated water and soil material encouraged during wastewater collection pipeline and household connection construction.

Eberhardt points out that the presence of contaminants in Aua, and along the pipeline, directly impact local residents in these areas as well as ASPA wastewater collection projects and existing drinking water infrastructure. “The presence of petroleum contamination along the pipeline and in Aua itself present potential impacts to the Central drinking water system serving Aua and much of Tutuila,” he explained.

He told the Army Corps that ASPA’s Central Drinking Water System is currently under a “boil water” notice and using limited USEPA funding, ASPA is undertaking numerous projects to drill new wells, reduce leaks and alleviate low pressure in the system to resolve the boil water notice.

“Increased costs for the wastewater project to serve Aua would directly reduce funding available for construction of current drinking water infrastructure projects critical to resolving the ‘boil water’ notice and potentially impact funding for the second phase to sewer... Onesosopo,” he said.

ASPA must also expend its grant funds for this project within the current grant period or risk loss of these funds, which was given a final extension to Dec. 31, 2019 and all projects must be completed and funds expended by this date, according to Eberhardt, who added that ASPA estimates the project would take two years to complete — from bidding out to completion of construction, but didn’t factor in issues that would be encountered as a result of the petroleum contamination.

Eberhardt revealed that the presence of petroleum contamination is already causing a delay in finalizing bidding documents and raising concerns regarding project costs. “Given that the extent of contamination is unknown, it is anticipated that there will be project delays during construction which may cause a problem with completing the project within the grant period,” he said.

“In summary, petroleum contamination along the Aua pipeline and in Aua village represents a direct risk and impact to human health and imposes undue financial burdens now and in the future on the undeserved, low-income communities on Tutuila” island, he said.

Eberhardt requested that the Army Corps “consider remediation assistance to American Samoa during the construction phase of its wastewater project to connect and sewer the village of Aua to off set costs associated with contamination caused” by the former US Navy fuel farm.