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Togiola seeks support of feds to expand Sanctuary

Gov. Togiola Tulafono, in his official remarks at the 27th U.S. Coral Reef Task Force Meeting in Washington D.C., last month, said he fully supports the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration proposal.

The Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary would add five new areas to its current area, according to the NOAA proposal; while local opposition has been en-capsuled in a Senate Concurrent Resolution calling for a full congressional review of NOAA’s proposal.

Togiola said in his remarks to the CRTF members that “this is a comprehensive science-based initiative... I hope all federal agencies that have authorities in the Territories will come together to support this NOAA and Territorial effort.” 

The governor explained that national marine sanctuaries are designated to protect areas of the marine environment with special significance due to their conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, scientific, cultural, archaeological, educational, or esthetic qualities.

“The areas proposed [by NOAA] for sanctuary designation through this collaborative effort certainly fit these criteria, and will make an invaluable contribution to the overall MPA [marine protected area] network in the Territory,” he points out.

“I also strongly believe that bringing attention to our special place for natural and cultural resources highlights for the U.S and the rest of the world a vibrant people, traditions, and intact culture with an enormous wealth in marine diversity and richness,” Togiola said.

“...I stand firm in that this proposal and the work with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries will bring our small islands at the forefront of natural and cultural resource significance across the globe and region,” he noted.

“I urge agencies — such as DOI — to provide support for this joint work. I would encourage your staff to work with my administration to ensure letters of support are submitted before March 9th which is the close of comments for the draft proposal,” he said.

Last Thursday, Congressman Faleomavaega Eni informed the Fono that the sanctuary expansion proposal was discussed with the governor, while in Washington D.C. but did not provide any other details of the meeting.

His letter was in response to a Senate Concurrent Resolution calling for a full congressional review of NOAA’s proposal. Faleomavaega has since referred the matter to the Congressional Research Service (CRS) for review.

Last Friday, Faleomavaega issued a news release outlining the specific issues that he has requested CRS to review:

* Under 48 U.S.C. 1661(b), public land laws that apply in the United States do not apply in American Samoa, however Congress can enact special laws for public land management. Is the National Marine Sanctuary Act (16 U.S.C. 1431, et seq.) a “special law”?

* Does Executive Order (E.O.) 13132- “Federalism” issued by President Clinton on August 4, 1999 apply to American Samoa, given that American Samoa is not a State?  If yes, does the expansion of the Marine Sanctuary violate E.O. 13132?

•     Is NOAA’s expansion plan of Fagatele Bay in compliance with E.O. 12866- “Regulatory Planning and Review” issued by President Clinton on September 30, 1993?

•     Whether the Deeds of Cession of Tutuila and Aunu’u islands (1900) and the Manu’a islands (1904), reserve the land and adjoining water rights to the people of American Samoa?

•     Whether NOAA can act to expand Fagatele Bay even if the majority of persons living in American Samoa oppose the expansion in a referendum?

•     What control does the American Samoa government have over the surrounding exclusive economic zone and territorial waters?

“The above critical issues raised by the Senate Concurrent Resolution have legal, practical, and political ramifications which deserve further Congressional review,” said Faleomavaega.  “This is why I have requested CRS to conduct a careful analysis of the issues.  I look forward to informing the Fono about the results once the review is completed.”