Director of Port Administration, Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Poumele, explained at a hearing of the Senate Transportation Committee yesterday that wharfage and dock charges haven’t been increased in 33 years.
She said a comparison of American Samoa’s port charges and those in the region shows that we have the lowest rates. Yet all costs associated with port operations has gone up dramatically.
She also informed the hearing that the rates being proposed in one of the administration’s revenue bills were discussed at meetings with port users in 2015.
She said the estimated revenues to be raised from the proposed increases is $2 million.
When asked how much Port collects from port fees and charges at the moment she cited $2.2 million.
While senators were generally in agreement that the charges needed to be increased after more than 30 years they were concerned that this would drive vessels away and that the higher costs would be passed on to consumers.
Taimalelagi said that the fees collected by the port are deposited in the General Fund.
Senator Faamausili Mau Mau Jr. asked why a portion of the fees cannot be earmarked for port improvements.
The port director said his suggestion would be possible if Port Administration was made an authority.
But Famaausili said creating an authority is not the only way to raise revenues for improvements of their facilities.
He said legislation can earmark a portion of the charges specifically for the port.
Another concern was wording in the bill stating that the port director shall review the fees every 5 years and if necessary, modify them in accordance with the Administrative Procedures Act
Does this mean that the port director can unilaterally increase the fees?
Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale explained the Administrative Procedures Act includes an opportunity for the public to make input on the fees.
The fees include pilotage fees of $85, for all vessels over 12 feet plus $5.10 per foot of draft.
If the services of a pilot are required for a deep draft vessel the minimum charge is $17.
Each move in the harbor would cost $170, and $170 for each anchoring.