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#2 priority for Rescue Plan funding is ports and airports — it’s good for business

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Admin allocates $35M from ARPA funding for ports and airports

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A budget of $35 million from American Samoa’s share from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 is going to a seaport and airport economic program, according to the American Samoa Recovery Plan Performance Report for the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) 2021 Report, which was publicly released last month.

During a recent Senate Rules Committee hearing on projects approved to be funded with the $479 million, American Samoa received as its share of the ARPA funds, ARPA Oversight Office executive director, Keith Gebauer said that the number one priority set and approved by the governor and lieutenant governor for projects and funding, is health care and the number two is “to respond to the total territory’s business needs.”

“Last year, as an example, at the wharf, I believe because of our COVID-19 protocol to keep us safe, there was numerous vessels that were sent back,” he explained and noted that there were “multiple times” that operations at the Port of Pago Pago were shut down.

And every time operation at the wharf is shutdown, or a vessel is turned away, the cost of business adds up, he pointed out.

“Everyday the boat sits on the water and doesn’t off load their goods, businesses here suffer, [and] the people suffer,” he informed senators. “So the governor and lieutenant governor prioritized our ports, as a number two to safe guard businesses.”

According to the performance report, which was also submitted to senators during the hearing, Port Administration will oversee this project with a timeline of implementation of 6 months to 18 months.

The overview of the project states that the negative impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration and the mitigation protocols was exacerbated on the operation of the lone commercial seaport and airport that handles 100% of all cargo and goods and passengers into the territory.

“The mitigation protocols to clear incoming commercial vessels and fishing vessels resulted in numerous delays in making basic goods, medicines, building materials and grocery items [available] to the residents of American Samoa,” it says

“To make enhancements to these facilities will reduce the negative economic impact to businesses and promote safe operations for the clearance and inspection of incoming goods,” the report states.

Furthermore, improving the airport layout to meet U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “guidelines for social distancing are critical to support reopening our borders and operating our only airport to receive commercial goods and travelers.”

The report noted that strengthening the territory’s seaport and airport facilities and improving sea transportation between the main island of Tutuila, the Manu’a Islands and Aunu’u are critical for transporting supplies, developing businesses and access to healthcare services.

“The inadequate state of these facilities has been highlighted under our public health emergency declarations and mitigation efforts to keep COVID-19 outside of our borders,” it says.

Additionally, the territory is 100% dependent on goods being able to flow through the single commercial port.

“Interruptions and delays, which were a common scenario due to the added vessel clearance and inspection protocols, had a direct and negative impact on our businesses and access to basic necessities. It cannot be overstated that our economy exists only so long as vessels are able to safely unload their cargo and commercial fishing vessels are able to be cleared to deliver their catch to the cannery for processing,” according to the report.

There have been inquiries among the private sector as to whether there is federal funding to make improvements to the Port of Pago Pago from the millions of dollars in ARPA funds as there were many interruptions in the flow of goods into the territory since the first COVID-19 declaration was issued in March of last year.