StarKist officials call on Lolo; “Potential” plans discussed
The American Samoa Government and StarKist Co., are looking to identify soon a new site for StarKist Samoa to build its proposed cold storage facility, which was initially planned for the main dock area in Fagatogo.
The cold storage facility was one of the issues discussed by Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga and StarKist officials from corporate office, who were on island last week to meet with the new administration.
Responding to Samoa News inquiries, the governor’s executive assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira says StarKist “will not construct” the cold storage facility on the main dock area and this “was received well by the governor” during the meeting.
He said the governor “was very concernedon the proposed placement [of the facility] in prime commercial real estate to facilitate development of other economic development potentials.”
Iulogologo says “logistical issues” are now being resolved for a new site where the cannery can construct a new facility.
Asked for comments and reaction, Mary Sestric, spokesperson based at StarKist Co., headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pa., said, “We are still investigating other options for a cold storage facility, but no final decisions have been made.”
Last week the governor delivered to the ASPA board his mandates and among them is the task of determining the feasibility of moving the Satala power plant to the Tafuna area, thus freeing up the land in Satala to be “dedicated to fishery development.”
Specific details of “fishery development” are expected to come out of the governor’s office in the near future.
Then-Gov. Togiola Tulafono had announced in a news release in mid December 2011 that ASG and StarKist had signed a Memorandum of Understanding, which noted the intent of the two sides to enter into a lease agreement for a parcel of land immediately adjacent to the Port Administration building on the Fagatogo dock for a cold storage facility.
The approximately 42,000 square foot parcel for the proposed project lies directly between the Port Administration building and the inter-island dock.
The announcement was met by much public criticism from residents— many of those living in the Bay Area— as well as from the business community. Many called on the government and StarKist not to proceed forward with the project, but to look for alternative sites.
The ASG Shipyard Services Authority suggested StarKist lease part of the shipyard area in Satala for the cold freezer.
The ASG draft of American Samoa’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, released last October, also recommended locating a more suitable site for the cold storage facility instead of the town area.
StarKist corporate officials who were in the territory last week to meet with the new administration were Andrew Choe, the vice president of procurement; Steve Hodge, the senior vice president of sales; and Greg Davis, the regional sales manager.
“The meeting with the governor was an opportunity for StarKist management to introduce themselves to American Samoa's new leader and offer support in his new role, as well as provide an overview of the StarKist business,” said Sestric via e-mail. ”We are looking forward to working closely with Gov. Lolo Moliga.”
Another issue discussed during the meeting was StarKist Samoa’s “proposed expansion of production facilities translating to 500 to 1000 jobs for the residents,” according to the governor’s office.
Asked for comments, Sestric said, the company is “not announcing any additional hiring at this time” and explained that the plant expansion discussed with the governor “reflected potential plans, and is dependent on a number of significant factors, both at the plant and company level.”
She said the StarKist delegation left the meeting with the governor “confident in his commitment to StarKist.” Additionally, “we are looking forward to working with the Governor to make StarKist operations as competitive as possible, so that StarKist can celebrate another 50 years in American Samoa.”
The governor’s office says that other issues discussed at the meeting were the minimum wage hikes, with the current moratorium due to lapse in 2015; and collaboration with the operation of the ASG owned shipyard in Satala “to buildcapacity and quality workmanship to attract vessels to off-load catches in American Samoa thus generating ancillary economic benefits and business activities.”
Asked if StarKist made any commitment to remaining in the territory, Iulogologo said, “Starkist is committed to stay because American Samoa still has the competitive advantage for fisheries operations.”
“Nevertheless the issues of labor cost and utility costs do significantly impact this competitive advantage. The [federal] 30A Tax benefit is due to lapse soon and the minimum wage issue needs to be resolved before 2015,” he added.
Last year’s minimum wage hike was delayed until September 2015 following a restructure of provisions of federal law.
Samoa News asked the CEO of the Shipyard Authority, Carlos Sanchez about StarKist’s willingness to work with the shipyard to attract more fishing vessels to the territory to off load their catches. He said, “I welcome StarKist's announcement to help the Shipyard now, and we welcome every single new boat that they will bring here, as that translates to income coming into the American Samoa economy. Our team at the shipyard has proven that the American Samoa shipyard is very capable of providing quality service in a timely manner, and we appreciate all the boat owners that have supported us thus far and believe in the abilities of our team and have given us the opportunity to show what we here in American Samoa can do.”
Sanchez did note that currently none of StarKist’s parent company, Dongwon, vessels nor any of their contract vessels — Taiwanese or Korean — have been repaired or dry docked at the shipyard to date. He said perhaps this will now change, and would he be contacting the General Manager of StarKist Samoa, Brett Butler, as to the cannery’s plans to help the shipyard.
Sanchez and his wife, Christinna Lutu Sanchez, as private citizens, publicly opposed StarKist building a cold storage facility on the main dock. They spearheaded a petition to stop the construction, with over a 10,000 signatures, copies of which were sent to the governor, Department of Interior, StarKist, and Congressman Faleomavaega. Cited in the petition was the negative impact of the cold storage location to the Bay area environment — increased water, land and air pollution.
Sanchez told Samoa News, “I congratulate and thank StarKist for not pursuing the construction of a cold storage on the main dock.”