Contrary to the Governor’s allegations as published by Samoa News on May 22nd, Faleomavaega did not request the House Subcommittee on Interior Appropriations to include language discouraging the commercial development of a new McDonald’s at Utulei Beach.
“While I am disappointed that Samoa News failed to verify the accuracy of the Governor’s statements which suggest that I am responsible for the Subcommittee’s decision to include language in the FY 2007 Interior Appropriations bill discouraging development of Utulei Beach, the truth is I did not ask the Committee to address this issue and I did not author the language included in the Committee report. I also did not ask the House Committee on Appropriations or the Subcommittee on Interior Appropriations to include language encouraging ASG to be more accountable for federal funds.”
“If the Governor doubts my word on this, I suggest he write or call the Chairman of the Committee or of the Subcommittee to verify his accusations against me,” Faleomavaega said. “Regarding both matters, the House Committee on Appropriations acted on its own. In the case of Utulei Beach, the Subcommittee on Interior Appropriations received letters from the US National Park Service (NPS) and responded accordingly. As a matter of professional courtesy, the Subcommittee informed my office of its intent to include language in the Interior Appropriations bill. However, the Subcommittee did not ask whether I agreed or disagreed with its decision and is under no obligation to do so.”
“In fact, contrary to the Governor’s assertion that ‘staff of these committees expect the Congressional Representative of the Territory to brief them on both sides of any issue,’ the House Committee on Appropriations acts independent of other committees and also acts independent of my office and any other office, for that matter. Furthermore, Committee staff travels to the insular areas specifically to make their own judgments about how the Territories are managing federal funds and complying with federal agreements. During these visits, Committee staff always requests to be briefed by the Territorial Governors and other local leaders in order to get both sides of any issue that may be of Congressional interest.”
“As our public is well aware, Interior Subcommittee staff traveled to American Samoa in January of this year and met personally with the Governor during this time. While I was not privy to their conversation, I trust that the Governor was given every opportunity to discuss his side of the McDonald’s controversy. I also had lunch with Committee staff during this time and I was given the opportunity to express my views, which I did.”
“On March 16th of this year, in accordance with the rules governing FY2007 Interior Appropriations, I submitted a request to the Subcommittee to increase ASG’s funding and to include language to set-aside $500,000 to develop critically needed recreational and sports programs for our elementary and high schools. Again, as a matter of public record, I made no mention of Utulei Beach or McDonald’s in the FY2007 requests I submitted to the Subcommittee, and these documents are on file should the Governor desire to review them. This said, I fully support the Committee’s efforts to discourage commercial development of Utulei Beach and to encourage better accountability of federal funds.”
“Given that the Subcommittee on Interior Appropriations has oversight for federal funds affecting American Samoa as well as the entire US Department of the Interior which includes the US National Park Service (NPS), the Subcommittee is under strict obligation to make sure that federal funds are managed properly and that legal agreements between ASG and a federal agency like the US National Park Service are honored. Unfortunately, in the case of the proposed land lease for the construction of a new McDonald’s at Utulei Beach, the Governor has chosen to challenge the terms and provisions of ASG’s agreement with the NPS. This agreement, which was initiated and approved in 1995 during Governor Lutali’s administration and continued even throughout Governor Tauese Sunia’s administration, places Utulei Beach Park within the Land and Water Conservation Fund Program (LWCF) as park land dedicated to public outdoor recreational use in perpetuity. In other words, it prohibits the development of Utulei Beach for commercial purposes including the construction of a McDonald’s.”
“As I have repeatedly stated, I like McDonald’s and I applaud the many valuable contributions McDonald’s has made to our Territory. I also support the idea of constructing a new McDonald’s in the Pago Pago Bay Area especially for the benefit of our people who live on the eastern side of the island. But I do not support construction at Utulei Beach. Again, Utulei Beach is a federally protected park area and, by contractual agreement, cannot be used for any commercial purpose. Therefore, the current proposal to construct a McDonald’s within a federally protected park area is a potential violation of ASG’s agreement with the US National Park Service and, thus, has become a federal matter not a local issue.”
“As the Subcommittee informed my office yesterday, it will continue to support the position of the US Department of the Interior and the US National Park Service, and this is bad news for ASG. If ASG does not resolve this issue and insists on defying its federal agreement with the National Park Service, then the federal government may have no recourse but to withhold other federal funding from us. This is why it is important for ASG to honor its commitment and give heed to the concerns of the Committee and the National Park Service.”
“As I have said before, no one is against McDonald’s. In fact, the same rules apply to any other local business wishing to construct at Utulei Beach including Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, etc. Therefore, I am hopeful that HTC Agaoleatu Tautolo, CEO of McDonald’s, will look again for other possible sites in the Pago Pago Bay Area. I also hope that the Governor will seriously reconsider his position on this matter and, on his suggestion that I retire from office, I would like to believe that we live in a democracy where our people have the right to choose for themselves who they want to represent their interests in the US Congress,” Faleomavaega concluded.