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New asphalt plant faces opposition during hearing

Some 221 residents of Tualauta District signed a petition that was submitted to the Project Notification and Review System (PNRS) Board last week during a public hearing on the Land Use Permit Application (LUPA) received by the Department of Commerce/American Samoa Coastal Management Program from Papali’i Lauli’i Alofa and Paramount Builders proposing to construct an asphalt plant in Tafuna.

This is the same site, where the government asphalt plant used by the Department of Public Works is located, and it is also the former location of the McConnell Dowell asphalt plant that has since been relocated closer to the airport runway.

Last week’s PNRS hearing was conducted by Consolidated Permit Review Manager Marvis Vaiaga’e and members of the PNRS board comprising representatives from the American Samoa Power Authority, the American Samoa Historical Preservation Office, the Governor’s Office, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, and the American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency.

Also, present were Tualauta residents Esther Wall and Lucia Bartley, who were both there to voice their opposition to the location of the proposed asphalt plant.

Representing Paramount Builders was Danny Delara who fielded questions from ASEPA’s Kuka Matavao who did not hold back in expressing his concerns over the health risks involved if the proposal goes through.

According to Delara, the proposed asphalt plant is to supply asphalt for the ongoing Airport Road Project which is currently at the center of a controversy.

Whitehorn Construction, the main contractor for the job, had until last Friday to 'cure its default' with the bonding issues they were experiencing. In late May, ASG officials claimed Whitehorn's initial bond certificates were fake or bogus, while Governor Lolo M. Moliga in a statement released to the media said the bond certificates were forged documents.

It is unknown at this time, if the pursuit by Paramount Builders for a permit to build and operate an asphalt plant indicates the airport project is still in the hands of Whitehorn. Paramount Builders is a local subcontractor for the project.

ASEPA's Matavao asked Delara how much asphalt they plan on producing and how long they plan to operate the plant. Delara said they anticipate utilizing the plant when it is needed, and their equipment can produce 45 tons of asphalt per hour.

He said they don't expect to operate the plant during nighttime hours but instead, have it up and running during normal working hours. When asked about issues regarding emissions in the air, Delara said they have a filter and dust collector to address these concerns.

Matavao then asked if Paramount Builders had received approval from the USEPA, to which Delara said he was not sure.

During a site meeting on June 12th, Delara said he sent the information to an employee of the ASEPA but as of last week, their company still had yet to receive a response.  

Matavao then referred to the site visit conducted by his office and inquired about the oil drums he saw there, as well as the cement dust that was "all over the area”.

He asked Delara if he supervises the operations and if he was aware of the chemicals that are being released in the air from the Tafuna site and blowing towards the Veterans Memorial Stadium.

Delara replied that they do not have a permit to operate a concrete batch plant, although they have used it a "couple of times." He added that the cement is loaded using machines and manpower, and that he is not there to supervise the operations. He stated that they do not have a permit to store the oil drums that are on the premises and he did not know why the workers opted to store the oil drums there, instead of discarding them properly at ASPA.

Matavao said ASEPA is "very concerned" for the public, because of the air quality in that area if the proposal goes through. He told Delara that chemicals are not only being dispersed through the air but also on the ground, and with the recent rainy weather, the chemicals will kill the grass, which is our source for oxygen.

The AS-EPA rep referred to the oil drums and told Delara that their office is also concerned with a possible oil spillage, adding that the AS-EPA can help with containment to prevent contamination of ground water.

Vaiaga’e, soothing the water, told Delara that the PNRS hearing is to help them go through the right process and there are legitimate concerns, as their job is to ensure that all environmental impacts are strictly considered.

The majority of the people at the hearing were not against the opening of a new asphalt plant, saying their main concern is the proposed location, which is an area located near four schools — South Pacific Academy, Tafuna High School,  Tafuna Elementary School, and Samoa Baptist Academy.

Delara said, at this time, their company has no alternate site for the asphalt plant. (The proposed site is where McConnell Dowell had its asphalt plant before but because of health concerns and a decision from the AS-EPA, the plant was relocated to where it is today — farther away, near the airport runway, and closer to the ocean.)

Matavao told Delara that obvious dust flyways are evident inside the nearby Stadium where the dust has accumulated so much that is appears to be 'white powder.'

"What goes in the hopper produces dust and all you have to do is run your hand across the stands in the Stadium to find out exactly how much dust is there," Matavao said. He added, "If we allow you to operate, what would become of our kids who frequent the stadium and the families living nearby? The grass there is not as green as it should be."

Delara argued that DPW operates an asphalt plant within the vicinity, to which board members explained that the plant he is referring to only produces enough asphalt for minor projects that include quick fills and patching potholes.

There were suggestions that Paramount Builders work hand in hand with McConnell Dowell for the supply of asphalt and hot mix.

An attorney for the AS-EPA said during the hearing that there is no need for two asphalt plants on island. He said the plants are "stinky, and produce hazardous chemicals that enter the lungs unseen." He said having two plants would be "excessive."

The concern is that after only one year of operation, if the plant is not maintained well, smoke being emitted will affect the young children nearby and then it becomes dangerous, as the concern will now move from being environmental to health.

When the floor was open for public comments, Lucia Bartley said Samoan people used to be healthy but in recent years, they have been sicker and dying young because of the environment. She told Delara that their company should consider life over money.

Esther Wall took the floor next and produced a petition that was circulated for two days and garnered 221 signatures from Tualauta residents objecting to the proposed asphalt plant. She pointed to the risk it poses to airplanes, saying dust eventually hardens and pieces could get stuck in the engines of airplanes flying in and out of the territory.

"This is a vast and dangerous thing," she said.

Tualauta faipule Rep. Larry Sanitoa shares the same concerns as the board members. He was not at the hearing but told the Samoa News over a telephone interview that he is very supportive of new business ventures, especially those driven by Samoans. But he does agree that the location is questionable and an alternative site should be explored. He said having a second asphalt plant on island would be beneficial and serve as a great 'back up plan,' in case one of the plants shuts down for whatever reason.

Asphalt plants mix gravel and sand with crude oil derivatives to make the asphalt used to pave roads, highways, and parking lots; and in the process, millions of cancer-causing toxic chemicals are released into the air we breathe. According to the EPA, "asphalt processing and asphalt roofing manufacturing facilities are major sources of hazardous air pollutants such as formaldehyde, hexane, phenol, polycyclic organic matter, and toluene. Exposure to these air toxics, asphalt fumes may cause cancer, central nervous system problems, liver damage, respiratory problems, severe skin irritation, headaches, dizziness, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and nausea."

The New Jersey Department of Health Senior Services (NJDHSS) website notes that animal studies show (PAHS) polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons affect reproduction, cause birth defects, and are harmful to the immune system.

Samoa News, however, understands that the Governor's Office has already given the approval for the proposal, signed off on the license and land permits — in fact Samoa News was told by a reliable source it happened before the PNRS meeting was held.

Questions then abound: Was the PNRS public hearing an 'after the fact' deal that had to be held strictly for record purposes — to say that a hearing was held for the land use permit? What if the PNRS Board denies the application? Whose decision prevails? The Governor's Office or the PNRS Board?

Samoa News spoke to the Governor's Chief of Staff Fiu Johnny Saelua, who said he had not heard of such an approval being granted and efforts to contact the Governor's legal counsel Steven Watson were unsuccessful as of press time.

The PNRS Board has 10 days to render a decision on the proposal.