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Faleomavaega's assessment on Fagatele Sanctuary expansion sent to Fono

Washington, D.C. — Congressman Faleomavaega has informed the Fono about his assessment of NOAA’s Final Rule and Final Management Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement (FMP/FEIS). In a letter addressed to the Senate President and Speaker of the House, with copies to the Governor, Lt. Governor, Director of Department of Commerce, Representatives and Senators, the Congressman described some of the key issues in the two documents.

Excerpts from the Congressman’s letter are inserted below while the full text can be accessed at:

“It is my understanding that NOAA for the most part has responded to the public comments submitted for the rule making record. Some remaining issues, however, need further clarification and may require more discussions between NOAA and our local government.

According to NOAA’s response in the Final Rule, a total of six additional meetings were held with the villages of Aunu’u, Vaitogi, Ili’ili, Futiga, and the Manu’a Islands. It is my understanding that NOAA, with the help of the Office of Samoan Affairs, followed culturally appropriate protocols in meeting with these villages and that NOAA has records from these meetings showing support for the additional sites.

“As a result of further consultations and public comments, NOAA has made several changes to its original proposal.”

“Despite these changes, there are still issues that need further clarification and even some that may require an agreement between NOAA and our local government.”

“As you are aware, NOAA’s budget to fully implement the Sanctuary Management Plan over the next 5 years is $8.2 million or about $1.6 million annually (Table 4-1, Page 197, FMP/FEIS)… In addition, another $8.5 million is estimated over the next 5 years for the acquisition, maintenance and operations of a new vessel that will be used mainly to support all activities proposed in the Action Plans.”

“As I alluded to in the rule making record, it is questionable whether additional funding will be forthcoming given the current budgetary climate and fiscal challenges facing our federal government (Letter to NOAA, March 6, 2012). Therefore, the question remains as to what impact this will have on the local government budget.”

“I am not aware of any lingering concerns from the public relating to NOAA’s Final Rule and the FMP/FEIS document. I am only aware that the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (Council) is scheduled to meet next month and the FBNMS expansion is on their agenda. While I cannot comment on behalf of the Council, they had some serious concerns relating to NOAA’s proposed expansion. Especially, it was the Council’s position that the proposal lacked scientific rationale and that it had potential conflict with the Council’s fishery development goals. The lack of enforcement mandate capabilities, and also given the current federal fiscal situation made the proposal unrealistic according to the Council.

“At this juncture in the process, pursuant to the National Marine Sanctuary Act (NMSA), the final designation will be effective after a review period consisting of forty-five days of continuous session of Congress. During this review period, only the Governor may submit changes to NOAA regarding the Final Rule.”

“Similarly, the Act also provides that either the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources or the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation may each conduct a hearing and file a report with the Department of Commerce.”

Congressman Faleomavaega concluded by stating, “I thank you all for your continued efforts and support on this important issue.