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Public Works has new Director

Faleosina Faiai Voigt is now the new director of the Department of Public Works, following a unanimous 20-0 vote in the House of Representatives yesterday. Voigt was already endorsed by the Senate earlier this week with a 13-1 vote.Voigt was confirmed following a hearing before the House Committee on Public Works/ Parks and Recreation, chaired by Rep. Atualevao Gafatasi Afalava. During the hearing she was asked how much strength she has to carry out the job and Voigt responded that on a scale of 1 -10, with 10 being the highest, she is an 11.The hearing raised across the board issues that were also discussed in a Public Works hearing held last week in the House, of which Voigt was the sole witness.One of the issues was of course the Tualauta County roads, which included an emotional plea from Rep. Florence Vaili Saulo, who in a shaky voice and with tears in her eyes, told Voigt that there are 22,000 residents in Tualauta County and they are desperately in need of road repairs in that area. Saulo said the current road conditions are getting worse everyday and there are many concerns for public health, safety, and property damage. She begged Voigt for help and said the people of Tualauta have suffered long enough. She likened her constituents to the Israelites and said she is looking at Voigt as their Moses, someone who will save them and take them out of their misery. She said she is not trying to disregard the need for road repairs for other districts in the territory but said this problem has existed for years in Tualauta and she can't believe how bad it has gotten.Of interest, Rep. Talaimatai Elisara Su’a asked Voigt if Public Works had any plans for sea transportation to and from Aunuu. Voigt explained that any matters regarding ocean transportation is under the Department of Port Administration but explained that funding is available through their office, to repair the wharves. She said their office can obtain money to buy a boat that can travel between here and the Manu'a Islands, and she assumes it would be ok to do the same thing for travel between Auasi and Aunu’u. Voigt said Public Works is responsible for securing funding in such areas, to assist the Port Administration with their duties.(A House resolution to the governor asking for a vessel for Aunu’u went through first reading on Wednesday.) Rep. Fetu Fetui Jr. then made a motion to release witness and have the committee proceed with their work. The motion was seconded, but the Committee Chairman said he wanted to give everyone a chance to ask questions — the hearing continued.Rep. Larry Sanitoa said he is hopeful that a plan detailing preventive maintenance and associated costs to fix all roads will be available soon. He said that for the past two years, the Federal Highway Administration has allocated $4 million for the territory through Public Works and he wondered if there was a reason why these federal grants are not noted in their department’s budget, as detailed in the single audit report. Rep. Taotasi Archie Soliai referred to the 5-year territorial transportation improvement plan (TTIP) which is currently being reviewed by Governor Lolo M. Moliga and said it is important that we move forward with economic development but this can't happen without the infrastructure to support it. The Ituau faipule then asked about the Road Maintenance Fund and asked whether this money was going to Public Works or the Treasury Department. Voigt said the Fund is under Treasury for now but the Governor's Office is working on giving the Fund back to Public Works.Rep. Pulelei’ite Li’amatua Tufele Jr. thanked the committee chairman for allowing all the faipules to have a chance to address the witness. He then asked Voigt about the possibility of re-appropriating money that comes in for road repair jobs. Voigt explained that funds from the Federal Highway Administration are divided up using the 40-40-10-10 formula. This translates to 40% each for the Virgin Islands and Guam, and 10% each for American Samoa and Saipan.She said the amount of money each territory gets is based on the miles and length of road, but added that “it doesn’t hurt to ask for reconsideration”.Pulelei'ite suggested that Voigt look into the possibility of advancing money from the CIP funds to carry out big jobs. He said he understands that such a move would need legislation and approval from the Governor.Fetu again raised his hand and reminded the committee chairman that a motion has already been made, and seconded, to stop all questions and release the witness. Atualevao said he is aware of this but he still wants to give the remaining faipules a chance to address the witness. But Fetu was persistent, saying too much time has already been taken up by questions from lawmakers who are not committee members.Ignoring Fetu, Atualevao continued the hearing by allowing the remaining faipules to ask their questions.