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Gov says FEMA regulations not clear — that’s why new Fono Building on hold

Rendering of proposed new Fono Building

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Among the issues covered in the Governor’s State of the Territory Address earlier this month was a brief status of the new two-story Fono building project, which has been on hold since late last year following concerns raised by the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

FEMA Region IX Administrator, Robert J. Fenton informed Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga in August that the new building does not comply with federal regulations, and it appears that construction of the new Fono building is on a site that is in a Flood Zone VE, which is the “highest-risk flood zone, subject to damaging forces of high waves and high wind."

Since then, there have been meetings between ASG officials — including one held with Fenton late last year in Oakland, California — and FEMA officials to address issues raised by FEMA.

Speaking to lawmakers last week, Lolo explained that the building’s architect, along with ASG attorneys and ASG engineers are working with FEMA to firm up this project in order for it to move forward.

He said the truth of the matter is, the Administration is unclear on exactly why the construction phase has been put on hold by FEMA. However, he added, one thing is sure: FEMA regulations are not clear, and he believes this is the reason for the delay in the project.

According to the governor, he had spoken to Fono leaders to give FEMA a chance to submit back to ASG what the federal agency wants at this point. And if FEMA wants changes, he said, a request has already been made to FEMA to provide funds to help resolve those issues so construction can resume.

Lolo told a cabinet meeting last November, that “right now, as far as I know, we haven’t violated any rules but we’re still working together with FEMA” and the US Department of Interior “to make sure that we relieve some of the pressure that is going on right now.”

ASG had informed Fenton that the building design “was based on the most recent and historical disaster damages data, and the resulting design addressed the risks from earthquakes, hurricanes, and coastal flooding to tsunami and wave surge from hurricanes.” (See Samoa News Dec. 12, 2018 edition for details).

At last week Friday’s Senate session, Sen. Satele Galu Satele Sr. said he would like to see a report outlining the money allocated for this project and how the funds were spent. He also requested a report on the current status of the project.

Satele also inquired about what happened to the renovations to the main Department of Public Safety building in Fagatogo and why the project is not yet dedicated, if it is completed. He said if there is no money to finish the project, then the project shouldn’t have started in the first place until all funding sources were in place.

The governor mentioned in his Address to the Fono last Monday, some of the ongoing projects in the Bay Area such as the DPS building, the new Jean P. Haydon Museum, and the new Fire Station (constructed next to the DPS building), saying these projects are expected to be dedicated by Flag Day in April this year.