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OIA director confirms $7MIL set aside for wharf project

A U.S. Department of Interior official has confirmed that about $7 million has been set aside for renovation of the service wharf area, which is adjacent to the main dock and this local project is overseen by the Port Administration Department.

Rep. Larry Sanitoa told House members early last week that he is concerned that the $7 million in Capital Improvement Project (CIP) funding awarded to the territory for the wharf renovation project may be in jeopardy due to the proposed Starkist Samoa cold storage freezer facility to be built on the wharf area between the Port Administration building and the inter island dock.

Later in the week, a news release from the federal Interagency Group on Insular Areas (IGIA) announced that American Samoa had been awarded $10.08 million in CIP funding and among the projects listed is $3.7 million for the “new service wharf”.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries regarding the two different amounts of the wharf renovation project, DOI’s Office of Insular Affairs director Nikolao Pula said the $3.7 million mentioned in the IGIA release is part of the approximately $7 million that OIA has allocated for the renovation of the service wharf adjacent to the main dock through Port Administration.

“The purpose of the approximately $7 million is to rehabilitate the deteriorating service wharf that is to be used for ASG service vessels: tug boats and inter-island ferries,” he said via e-mail from Washington D.C. last Friday. “This is a worthwhile project and a necessary infrastructure for servicing the American Samoa Government utility vessels; however, OIA must also ensure that the intent and purpose of the project is along the lines of the Capital Improvement Project program.”

Pula said OIA staff and pertinent ASG officials are currently working to prepare documentation necessary to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and all other applicable environmental regulations.

Asked for comments on the proposed cold storage facility and its impact on the wharf renovation,  Pula said, “we have heard that the ASG is considering leasing the service wharf area to the StarKist cannery, but we have not yet received a request from the Port Administration regarding that change in the scope of work.”

“I am informed by staff that any plans to place a cold storage facility on the proposed newly-renovated service wharf project would change the original intent and purpose of the project and would most likely require a full Environmental Assessment and/or Environmental Impact Statement before the project is implemented,” he explained.

“Conducting a full environmental review of the magnitude of this type of project typically takes a minimum of one year to complete and may likely increase the overall length and cost of the project,” he added.

The House Transportation Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing this week on impact of the DOI funding for the wharf renovation project, due to the cold storage facility. Sanitoa has also asked the committee to see if there was an Environmental Impact Study done in reference to the freezer site and the new building.

“Such a study should address any relevant concerns with regards to the location and site of a cold storage facility,” Sanitoa told Samoa News last week.

While Pula notes that DOI has heard that ASG is considering leasing “the service wharf area to the StarKist cannery…”, Samoa News understands the land lease between ASG and StarKist has been signed.