TOFR: FEMA "anxious" to release funds for new schools
Territorial Office of Fiscal Reform (TOFR) director Falema’o M. Pili testified before a Senate committee that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) wants to release federal funds to build one new school and rebuild other school buildings affected by the tsunami, but the federal agency wants to make sure the territorial government complies with federal regulations.
The 2009 tsunami, which killed 34 people in American Samoa, completely destroyed Taputapu Elementary School in Poloa and caused damage to school buildings at Matatula Elementary School in Tula and Leatele Elementary in Fagasa.
Following the tsunami, students from Taputapu were housed at large FEMA classroom tents at Alataua Lua Elementary School at nearby Nua and Seetaga village while the government and FEMA worked on securing a new site away from the shoreline in Poloa for Taputapu students. More than a year ago, ASG identified land in Fagali’i village - which is located on the mountain - to build a new Taputapu school.
At last Thursday’s Senate Government Operations Committee hearing, one of the issues raised by Sen. Alo Dr. Paul Stevenson, who is also chairman of the Senate Education Committee, was the status of the schools affected by the tsunami, especially since the school year begins today. He also wanted to know if there is a hold up in FEMA funding or if FEMA doesn’t want to fund these projects.
For the school to be built at Fagali’i, the TOFR director testified that his office is working on expediting the process and FEMA is “anxious” to release funds, but the federal agency is waiting for ASG to approve the land lease for the project.
Education Department director-designee Dr. Jacinta Galeai added that the lease is now with the governor’s office for approval for this project to move forward.
Alo also wanted to know if students at Matatula and Leatele will be returning to school sitting in large FEMA classroom tents, to which Dr. Galeai said the Matatula school building affected by the tsunami has since been completed and can be used in the new school year.
As for the Leatele school building destroyed by the tsunami, it was Public Works director Taeaotui Punaofo Tilei, who provided a reply, telling the committee there is an issue pertaining to the scope of work to be addressed and they are now awaiting FEMA approval for the design of a two-story structure.
He also told the committee the family who owns the land in Fagali’i for Taputapu school has already signed the land lease.
Alo said he is concerned with the delays in using these federal funds, because American Samoa may face losing this important money.
Pili said the Leatele school building issue, as well as the Fagali’i lease both need to be addressed, because the sooner they are resolved, the sooner FEMA will release the funds. He said American Samoa must comply with all federal regulations in order to release the FEMA money.
Among its duties and responsibilities, TOFR works closely with FEMA on local projects funded by the federal agency.