Army Corps commander briefs senators over recent stop orders
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Lt. Col. Christopher R. Pevey, District Commander based in Honolulu, for the U.S Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) told senators that he doesn’t have a time frame of when the stop-order for seawall projects will be lifted but promised to get back with a reply.
Pevey — who led the USACE team that appeared late yesterday morning during a Senate Public Works Committee hearing — was responding to committee chairman Sen. Satele Lili’o Aliita’I who asked when the stop orders issued by USACE will be lifted for seawall projects as well as the stop order for a stream project.
Satele didn’t specify the seawall or the stream project, but he told the USACE team that some of the work had already been done.
Peyer responded that it’s “hard to give a time frame” and gave a brief summary of the normal permitting process and when a permit decision is made.
“Now to answer your direct question — that depends on when the issues would be resolved for a stop order, or no stop order,” Peyer informed the committee chairman. “Right now we’re working on a report in February.”
Peyer said that the question asked by the chairman is the same one he asked his team in Honolulu before traveling here and there’s no answer yet.
“But I will get you an answer on how long we think it will take. My intent is not to take a long time at all,” he said. “We’ll get back to you on the exact timing.”
Samoa News points out that Satele pressed for a time-frame on when the stop orders would be lifted, towards the end of the hearing.
As previously reported by Samoa News, the USACE issued “Notice of Violation” against ASG over unauthorized activities in the Tula shoreline area, and alleged activities performed by Paramount Builders Inc. at Amaile Stream in Nu’uuli — both projects are without a federal permit.
At the start of the one-hour hearing, Satele explained to the USACE team that the purpose of the hearing “is not only to gain an understanding of what needs to be done, to get the seawall projects back on track immediately, but of equal importance, how to avoid any further unnecessary delays on these and other projects.”
He continued, “Our shorelines are disappearing at an alarming rate and your assistance both now and in the future will greatly be appreciated. 2022 alone saw precedent damage to our shores confirming the fact that we do not have the luxury of time” to wait.
Satele hoped that the team would make observations and assist the territory and that every effort is made, to not only protect the environment, but also to ensure the safety and the wellbeing of the people.
Pevey explained that during the team’s time here, they looked at some of the local projects. “We’re committed partners to you, trying to figure out” how to help mitigate “the concerns that you have.”
He also said that the team’s specific purpose of the visit “was to understand some of the project concerns [here] and how we can help with technical expertise.”
For example, he said the team has met with local officials, including a meeting with the acting governor and his staff, as well as the meeting last week in Honolulu with the governor.
“But where can we bring our technical expertise to the table and to provide that for you, if there are other priority projects that are ongoing?” he asked.
He revealed that, “I wasn’t aware of the issues until I came here. But now I’m committed to go back and learn all the issues — I’m not sure I have the solutions to all the concerns” voiced by the senate yesterday. (He didn’t specify the issues he was referring to.)
“But I’m committed to understanding where those things are in the process,” he said and noted that there is a federal process that is governed by EPA and “we’re looking, where we can, in that process, expedite things.”
“But we as an agency, we owe you, probably a better explanation, where things are in the process,” he said, and also to brief senators on the USACE roles as well as working with other federal agencies, including in times of disasters.
The team, which returned to Honolulu last night, carried out a site visit of projects on the East side of Tutuila yesterday afternoon.
Questions arose last week during a House hearing with the Director of Public Works Faleosina Voigt, after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers served the government with a “Notice of Violation” over unauthorized activities involving the discharge of fi ll material into waters of the United States and the unauthorized work in navigable waters along the shoreline in the village of Tula.
Currently, the local government’s position is that they are “emergency” projects that couldn’t await a federal permit as they are being conducted or are on-going in waters of the United States (WOTUS), which are under the Corps jurisdiction, according to Linda Speerstra, Chief of the US Corps Regulatory Office.
In a letter Speerstra wrote to Voigt, she cited that the Pacifi c Ocean is a traditional navigable water and therefore, are waters of the United States (WOTUS) and is subject to jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps.
Gov. Lemanu P. S. Mauga said in a statement that “as a small island territory, the eff ects of climate change knows no limitations and no boundaries. “It is paramount that the government must continue to do the work to protect our people, and preserve the land that we are losing to the rising tides,” he stated.
Samoa News will report in future editions on other issues covered in the hearing.