Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he wishes to thank the US National Park Service (NPS) for responding to his concerns about its recent meeting with Governor Togiola in Oakland, California on Friday June 23, 2006 regarding the McDonald’s lease and Utulei Beach Park. The NPS provided clarification about its meeting in a letter dated July 6, 2006 which was addressed to Governor Togiola and copied to Congressman Faleomavaega, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Papalii David Cohen, Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) at the DOI.
“I thank the NPS for responding to my concerns which I raised in a letter to US Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne on June 29, 2006, about a week after the Governor met with OIA and the NPS behind closed doors to discuss the proposed construction of a McDonald’s at Utulei Beach Park,” Faleomavaega said. “While I appreciate 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, I stated that the public wants to know what federal and local officials are doing to resolve this problem.”
“I also stated that I expect the DOI to strictly adhere to the standards of conversion, or replacements of lands, as outlined by federal law. While I was also hopeful that Governor Togiola would protect American Samoa’s only beach for future generations, federal law leaves him with 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,” Faleomavaega said.
“Federal law requires the NPS to consider the Governor’s proposal to offer up replacement lands but I have made it clear that I am opposed to any proposal or framework of resolution that lowers the standards of conversion. I have also urged the DOI to let conversion negotiations proceed between NPS and ASG without undue influence.”
“In response to the concerns I raised in my letter, NPS has responded appropriately and provided clarification which shows that NPS is committed to adhering strictly to the law. In fact, The NPS makes it clear that the framework of resolution which resulted from the Governor’s meeting of June 23rd is only an outline and a brief summary of their conversation. NPS states, “we feel other details of our conversation are important to keep in mind as we move forward.”
Some of these details include the following statements made by NPS in its letter of July 6, 2006 to Governor Togiola:
“We are obliged both philosophically and legally to preserve the public’s outdoor recreation estate. The National Park Service’s ability to authorize conversions of LWCF property is strictly circumscribed by the LWCF Act, and in particular the regulations found in Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 59. The details of these requirements were referenced in our conversation in terms of the proposed replacement property needing to ‘meet LWCF standards.’ We spoke specifically at the time of the necessity of having sufficiently considered alternatives to converting parkland, the need for appraisals for all properties involved to insure that the replacements are of at least equal fair market value, the necessity of any replacement property meeting the criterion of ‘reasonably equivalent usefulness and location,’ and that the proposal be in conformity with the Territory’s Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.”
The NPS further outlined nine criteria that govern conversions and informed Governor Togiola that it will need documentation showing that these criteria have been met. The NPS also said that --
“Being that Utulei Beach Park is the only beach affording public access to good swimming and recreational boating on Tutuila Island, the threshold for replacement property to meet the ‘reasonably equivalent usefulness and location’ criterion is quite high. The Government of American Samoa must make the case that this criterion is met by any replacement property in another location.
“In offering replacement lands, the NPS stated that Governor Togiola said other locations had been considered for the McDonald’s lease but “that locating it at Utulei Beach is critical to the overall redevelopment plans for the Utulei and Fagatogo area.”
Based on this representation, the NPS said it would consider the Governor’s proposal as required by federal law,” Faleomavaega said. “However, in the same letter, the NPS also stated that in its discussion with the Governor, the Governor said that he ‘did not intend for there to be any further commercial development of Utulei Park other than the proposed McDonald’s.’”
“On the one hand, the Governor says he needs to construct a McDonald’s at Utulei Beach because this is critical to the overall redevelopment plans for the Utulei and Fagatogo area and, on the other hand, he says that the McDonald’s corporation will be the only corporation allowed to build at Utulei Beach. How fair is this to Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and the rest of our local business owners?” Faleomavaega asked.
“Do our business owners have a say in this? What about our Fono? Has the Governor submitted an economic development plan to our Legislature for consideration? If not, why not? Also, what is the role of the Fono in determining what lands the Governor may offer up as replacement lands for Utulei Beach?”
“Whatever direction this takes, I believe the NPS has an obligation to keep the public informed and I will do my part to make sure this is so. For now, I am pleased that the NPS has agreed to provide an initial review of proposed replacement properties that would indicate if there are any obvious facts that would render them ineligible before funds are expended to obtain surveys, appraisals, recreational development plans, and environmental compliance. Most importantly, I am pleased that the NPS has underscored the importance of the Governor’s commitment to “prohibiting any ground disturbing activity related to the McDonald’s lease until NPS has completed the review and approval process for replacement properties.’”
“Again, I thank the NPS for providing clarification on its recent meeting with the Governor and I am encouraged that the NPS is taking this matter very seriously. I am also encouraged that the NPS has documented its meeting with the Governor in its July 6th letter so that all facts pertaining to this historic issue can be made part of the public record. Utulei Beach is the people’s beach and, as such, our people have every right to know how ASG officials make decisions that will impact, for generations to come, the use of the most scenic and only beach park in American Samoa.”
“Our people also have every right to know what local lands will be given away to the federal government to accommodate the needs of one business owner. For this reason, a full copy of the NPS letter dated July 6, 2006 is posted on my website,” Faleomavaega concluded.