May 10, 2007 — A bill granting one local company an exclusive 15-year franchise to provide ferry service between St .Thomas and St. Croix was signed into law Thursday by Gov. John deJongh Jr.
This step is taken to provide Virgin Islanders with another option for travel between the island districts, with the aim of lowering fares by introducing additional competition to such travel," deJongh wrote in a letter sent to Senate President Usie R. Richards explaining his decision.
Since the bill was introduced at a meeting held in late March, senators have argued whether or not the proposed franchise agreement for Aquatic Management LLC — doing business as V.I. SeaTrans — should have been put out to bid, allowing other local ferry companies the chance to present alternate proposals.
Others, such as Senate Minority Leader Ronald E. Russell, have questioned whether the Legislature has the authority to grant exclusive ferry franchises, or whether such proposals should be vetted through the Department of Property and Procurement or the V.I. Port Authority.
Still, the bill's supporters have argued that there is a need for reliable, and permanent, ferry service between the two islands. At a full Senate session held last month, Richards explained that agreement has been in the works for at least the past year and would allow the company to access the federal funds needed to subsidize the cost of a new boat and other expenses (See "Senate Approves Help for WAPA, Exclusive Franchise for Ferry Route").
During the April session, the bill narrowly made it through the full body, with eight senators voting in favor, four voting against and three abstaining.
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