Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he has written to US Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne regarding the proposed construction of a McDonald’s at Utulei Beach Park. Faleomavaega copied his letter to Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett, Pacific West Regional NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis, Deputy Assistant Secretary for OIA Papalii David Cohen, OIA Director Nik Pula, Governor Togiola, Lieutenant Governor Sunia, the President of the Senate and Senators, the Speaker and Representatives. The Congressman’s letter is dated June 29, 2006 and a full text of his letter is included below.
Dear Mr. Secretary:
I am writing to express my concerns about a meeting which was held on June 23, 2006 in San Francisco between Governor Togiola, the National Park Service (NPS), and the Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) regarding the proposed lease and construction of a McDonald’s at Utulei Beach in American Samoa.
It is my understanding that the meeting was held as a result of Acting Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett’s letter to Governor Togiola dated June 7, 2006 regarding ASG’s failure to comply with the legal requirements of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Act. In her letter, the Acting Secretary encouraged the Governor to meet as soon as possible with the NPS and the Office of Insular Affairs to find a mutually agreeable solution to this issue.
I am pleased that the Governor has finally given heed to this admonition, and I sincerely hope a more positive solution will result from these consultations since there has been considerable debate and confusion about this matter for the past thirteen months. As you are aware, this issue has also drawn Congressional attention.
During the recent meeting held in San Francisco, it is my understanding that the possibility of conversion, or trade-off of lands, between the NPS and the American Samoa Government (ASG) was discussed, and this is understandable since the process requires this as an option for consideration. However, it should be noted that the NPS repeatedly informed my office that to its knowledge there is no land in American Samoa that meets the criteria for conversion to take place. Yet as a result of last week’s meeting with OIA, it appears that a framework for resolution (attached) between ASG and the NPS, including the possibility of conversion, has now been set forth.
While I realize that the law requires the NPS to review any proposal for conversion that the Governor might offer and that the ultimate decision rests with you, it is my sincere hope that DOI will follow the prescribed procedure and let conversion negotiations proceed between NPS and ASG without undue influence. I am also hopeful that there will be no more meetings held behind closed doors given that the public wants to know what federal and local officials are doing to resolve this problem.
At this time, I am pleased that Governor Togiola has now publicly acknowledged that his proposal to construct a McDonald’s at Utulei Beach was in violation of federal requirements and ASG’s agreement with the NPS. While I was also hopeful that Governor Togiola would protect American Samoa’s only beach for future generations, it is my understanding that the law now leaves him with only two alternatives. One, he can propose construction of a McDonald’s at a site other than Utulei Beach or, two, he must give up valuable ASG land of similar value and recreational use in order to commercially develop Utulei Beach if he can find ASG land that meets the strict criteria set forth for conversion.
According to information provided to my office by the Congressional Research Service and NPS, the LWCF Act contains strong provisions to protect federal investments and the quality of assisted resources. The law is firm but flexible and discourages casual “discards” of park and recreational facilities by ensuring that changes or conversions will bear a cost, a cost according to the NPS “that assures taxpayers that investments in the national recreation estate will not be squandered.” For this reason, it should be noted that the NPS has already spent $400,000 to protect the intended purposes of Utulei Beach and about $4 million total to preserve other lands including Utulei, Tafuna and Onasosopo parks for recreational purposes and not for commercial development.
It should also be noted that the LWCF Acts contains a clear provision which states that:
No property acquired or developed with assistance under this section shall, without the approval of the Secretary, be converted to other than public outdoor recreation uses.
The Act also states that:
The Secretary shall approve such conversion only if he finds it to be in accord with the then existing comprehensive statewide outdoor recreation plan and only upon such conditions as he deems necessary to assure the substitution of other recreation properties of at least fair market value and of reasonably equivalent usefulness and location.
Given this criteria, I do not know how the Governor, or the NPS, or the DOI will be able to justify conversion of equivalent usefulness for any land that might be proposed given that Utulei Beach is the only public beach in American Samoa. What I do know is that I am opposed to a plan of settlement that does not meet the strict criteria defined by federal law and I am opposed to any proposal that lowers the standards of conversion.
ASG lands are lands held in public trust by the people and I do not believe it is in the interest of our people for ASG to have to give up multiple parcels of land in order for one business owner to be able to construct a McDonald’s at Utulei Beach. I also do not believe there is any land in American Samoa that reaches the standard of reasonably equivalent usefulness and location.
In its 2007 conference report, the House Appropriations Committee, which has oversight for ASG, NPS, and DOI funding, included language to “encourage the American Samoa government to not allow commercial development of waterfront areas of Utulei Beach Park because this site has such high recreational and natural values, and it has enjoyed funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund Program which indicates that this park land should be dedicated to public outdoor recreational use in perpetuity.
Again, given that the federal government, with the support of two previous Governors, has invested considerable sums of money for the past ten years to protect Utulei Beach as park land dedicate to public outdoor recreational use in perpetuity, I trust that your Department will give this matter your most serious attention and that Utulei Beach Park will not be converted for commercial purposes especially since the McDonald’s corporation can choose from five other potential locations on the Eastern side of Tutuila Island.
Faleomavaega concluded his letter by saying, “Until this matter is resolved, I request that my office be kept informed of the current consultations between NPS/OIA and ASG and I sincerely hope that we will find a reasonable solution to a local issue that should never have escalated into a federal problem.”