Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he is responding to Senate President Lolo’s letter of November 23, 2006 regarding construction of a local airport tower. Portions of Senator Lolo’s letter to the Congressman has already been printed by the press and Faleomavaega also wishes to keep the public informed about his position as this serious matter begins to be deliberated by our federal and local leaders.
A full copy of the Congressman’s letter to Senate President Lolo is included with this release and has been copied to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, the Speaker, local Representatives and Senators, and also to Deputy Assistant Secretary Papali’itele Cohen, and Mr. William Wythcombe, FAA Regional Administrator. A copy has also been submitted to Senate Special Legal Counsel, J.D. Hall, given that President Lolo also copied him.
Faleomavaega began his letter to Senate President Lolo by thanking him for his recent letter of November 23, 2006 regarding the $2 million which Congress set aside for construction of a temporary airport tower. “As I noted in my testimony before the Fono on June 29, 2006,” Faleomavaega said, “initially my request for the $2 million was to fund the construction of a temporary tower which was supposed to last for at least 10 years, until such time as the FAA would then provide for a more permanent tower.
“But for almost two years the FAA could not make up its mind about whether or not to construct a temporary tower. On the one hand, the FAA sent parts for the temporary tower. On the other hand, the FAA made no effort to construct the tower and, as a result of the FAA’s indecisiveness, the parts corroded and became useless.”
“When the FAA informed my office it needed additional funding to build a tower, I made the request for funding through our Congressional friends both in the House and Senate,” Faleomavaega continued. “While still not sure if it would build a tower for us, the FAA then decided to conduct a cost-benefit analysis as required by federal law to determine if the costs of building a tower would be justifiable based upon the number of flights that the airport handles each day. As it turned out, FAA determined that American Samoa does not qualify for the construction of an air traffic control tower, neither for temporary nor for permanent use.”
“Nevertheless, at my request and with the support of Chairman Don Young of the House Committee on Transportation, Senators Ted Stevens and Daniel Inouye, Chairman and Vice-Chairman, respectively, of the Senate Committee on Transportation, and Ranking Member Nick Rahall of the Resources Committee, we set aside $2 million for the construction of a temporary airport tower until such time as we could find a resolution to this problem. This money has been set aside since 2004 in HR 4818, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005, which has now become Public Law 108-447.”
“At my request, the FAA continues to hold the money until such time as we can modify the law to make us exempt from the cost-benefit ratio. With the changeover in Congress, I am hopeful that our Democratic colleagues will support an exemption for American Samoa so that our airport tower can remain within the FAA system. While I appreciate that our local government may be anxious to construct a tower, I do not support the FAA’s efforts to rid itself of American Samoa and have no further responsibility for us.”
“However, in July 5, 2006, the Governor wrote directly to the Western Service Area of the FAA and asked that our airport tower be placed into the Federal Contract Tower (FCT) program and that we use Airport Improvement Program (AIP) and other funds to build a new tower. On October 4, 2006, William Wythcombe, FAA Regional Administrator for the Western Region, replied to the Governor and copied me on his response.”
“While I may be open to the idea of moving our tower into the Federal Contract Tower program, I must be assured by the FAA that this will not create a situation where our local government will become responsible for providing matching dollars, etc to operate and maintain our tower. Given that our local government was unable to come up with enough money to extend our advisory services for one year, I do not see how it is in the best interest of our people to make them responsible for paying for the services that the FAA should be providing.”
“I believe this is an issue we must discuss at length during my upcoming visit to American Samoa and, hopefully for the New Year, we can present a unified plan to the FAA which will meet our needs,” Faleomavaega concluded.