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Tri Marine International is looking at hiring in excess of 1,000 workers for its new tuna processing facility in American Samoa, but moving this project forward is on hold as the company has been waiting for more than a year to get a federal permit approved to rebuild a collapsed seawall next to the plant.

This information was revealed Tuesday by Tri Marine chairman Renato Curto and other company officials during a news conference at their local office at the Pago Plaza Building. Another revelation made at the news conference was that the company is negotiating with ASG to lease the back portion of the Ronald Reagan Marine Railway shipyard in Satala.

A company news release presented to reporters states that Tri Marine is making good progress in American Samoa but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit is delaying cannery plant construction.

At the outset of the news conference, Curto said the company is basing its ten fishing vessels in American Samoa and its Samoa Tuna Processor Inc. — the company’s tuna processing facility — presents an investment of about $200 million in the territory.

Curto, along with company board officials, Clifford Chen, Carlo Mango, Ling Min Chu and Joe Hamby arrived in the territory Sunday to see their local operations, review the construction of STP and see some of the tuna purse seiners owned by the Bellevue, Washington based international firm.

“American Samoa is obviously a strategic part of our business and our group,” said Curto, who added that this is the first time that all of Tri Marine’s shareholders are visiting the territory together. Curto described Samoan people as “very gracious, very kind, and hard working.”

Shareholders also checked on the ongoing construction of the company’s new 5,000 ton capacity, "energy efficient cold store” with a scheduled completion date of early February next year.

Curto said they are very happy with the progress of the cold storage facility construction project, which is located away from the site of the processing facility for which they are awaiting the permit for the seawall construction.

“Our concern is that before we start spending many, many millions of dollars in a plant that may ending up sliding into the bay, we want to make sure that the seawall is repaired,” he said and noted that repairing the seawall must be done first and the company had applied more than a year ago for the federal permit to reconstruct the seawall.

Tri Marine vice president of production, Dan Sullivan explained that this issue may have not been important before, but it is now, because the company is building a “much larger cold storage” facility than the original plan, and the storage facility has taken up land space on site. The land space was previously used by by the former cannery to house boilers and other machinery.

“In order to replace those key [spaces], we need to expand to the east end of the plant in order to construct the tuna processing plant,” said Sullivan, who noted that the collapsed, corroded seawall needs to be replaced or “we will be in the sami”.

The company also needs to replant some land, and the permit process has been longer than expected but Tri Marine is still working on it, and hoping to have it accomplished before the holidays at the end of the year.

He said the company’s initial plan was to build a smaller cannery plant and then expand. “We’ve given up on that idea and [will] go directly to a large plant, processing... up to 350 tons a day,” he said.

However, “we need to know if we will get the [permit] approval from the Army Corps on the seawall before we can proceed with the larger facility,” adding at the same time that this is something that is very important to the construction process and Tri Marine is “very confident that the permit will be granted soon.” Curto said the governor is also assisting them with pushing the federal agency.

“We don’t believe we’re asking for anything… unreasonable” from the Army Corps, he stated.

Company officials say an environmental assessment for the seawall construction has been submitted to the federal government and another “in-depth survey” of what’s on the ocean floor of the area is being sought.

Sullivan said they need to address concerns about construction damaging “essential fish habitat” in the area.

“...we want to comply with all the rules and regulations,” Curto emphasized during the news conference.

As to the expected workforce for STP, Sullivan said the company is looking at employing “in excess of 1,000 people” and the hiring will be done in phases. He also said there is training involved, as well as market demand to take into consideration when it comes to hiring.

Curto also shared what he called “very preliminary news”, which is that on Tuesday “we were able to negotiate in principal an agreement with the governor to lease the back portion of the shipyard, in which we are going to put a warehouse so that our boats get support service. There will be a yard in the front, and we may eventually put our offices over there.”

“It's an additional investment that we want to do, and we are happy that we were able to get the consent of the governor. Hopefully, we will be able to negotiate the details in a way that is satisfactory for everybody,” he said.

The company is expecting an initial lease of less than 10 years and its officials are currently surveying the proposed lease property.

At the start of the news conference, Curto said the purpose of the shareholders’ visit to the territory is to “show our support and our gratitude for everything that has been accomplished so far.”

He said the company’s local management and staff, the contractors and the local workforce are doing a commendable job on the new cold storage facility and redevelopment of the processing facility.

Curto also said they are “deeply grateful” to Gov. Togiola Tulafono, the Fono and the people of American Samoa “for making us feel welcome and for allowing us to do business here. We ask for your continued support. We need it.”