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Landfill Problems Near Airport Have Cost Territory $12 Million in Federal Funds

May 18, 2007 — The V.I. Port Authority has already lost more than $12 million in federal funds because of EPA violations at Anguilla Landfill and is short on cash because millions in fees collected by U.S. Customs get remitted back to the Port Authority on a very sporadic basis, according to information presented at a hearing Thursday.
The issues came out in a hearing of the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture in Frederiksted. Testimony came from tenants of the Port Authority at St. Thomas' Cyril E. King and St. Croix's Henry E. Rohlsen airports, and at the Port Authority’s various marine facilities. They expressed concerns about the state of the airports’ air conditioning, baggage belts and other issues.
Port Authority officials testified lated, addressing the tenants' concerns and answering questions from senators. Some of the maintenance issues were blamed on tight cash flow because of the financial issues and because of declining passenger flights to the territory.
“The airports are the first and last impression for our islands,” said Joanne Bohr of Worldwide Flight Services. “In St. Croix, our first impression is waiting outside for someone to open the door. Next, their bags often are delayed getting to them due to the bag-belt system, which is unreliable and can often require waits in excess of 45 minutes. On St. Thomas, it is often more than an hour.”
Victor Somme of V.I. Ground Handlers concurred, adding another concern.
“At present our greatest challenge is the lift chair,” Somme said. “Often people have to be carried up into the plane …. Also, the air conditioning — we fix it and it breaks down again. It is bad for morale. The other thing is the broken baggage belt …. Major carriers are starting to show concern because of the delays it creates, which — with missed flights and luggage following late — costs thousands and thousands of dollars.”
Pressed about the situation, Port Authority Executive Director Darlan Brin said he believed they were collecting enough in fees, but other factors were creating a cash crunch.
“Traffic is down 9.5 percent at (Henry E.) Rohlsen and 6.9 percent at (Cyril E.) King airport,” Brin said. “We depend on those funds for our operation, because we cannot use federal funds for day-to-day operations.”
The Port Authority receives several million in federal funds earmarked for runway maintenance and other things, but the authority is ineligible to receive discretionary funds because both the EPA and the FAA have mandated the closure of the nearby Anguilla landfill on St. Croix, Brin explained. The FAA’s concern is the flight hazard created by birds at the dump, while the EPA is concerned with its environmental impact. So far, Brin said, the Port Authority has lost more than $12 million in federal funds over the issue, although the authority has no power to do anything about the dump.
Sen. Louis Hill urged Governor John deJongh Jr. to push for a fast resolution to the situation with Anguilla.
“This situation has applied for a couple of years now, and should have been dealt with by the last administration,” Hill said. “I hope the governor takes note and puts this on the front burner.”
Getting rates and fees that are collected by Customs at the Port Authority’s marine facilities has been slow. No funds have been lost this way, but the delays create a cash-flow problem, officials said.
“(U.S.) Customs collects the money and turns it over to (the Department of) Finance, who turn it over to us,” Brin said. “Sometimes it takes almost a year before they give us our money. Right now they owe us about $3 million, the largest amount ever.”
To put these numbers in perspective; the Port Authority collects and spends just under $23 million a year currently, according to figures supplied to the Legislature. Brin said he would prefer to ask the appropriate federal authorities to let the territory cut U.S. Customs out of the loop and collect the money directly. This would save on fees taken by Customs for the service of collecting the money, he said. Every other U.S. marine port facility collects its own fees, he said. In addition, he noted, Customs charges a considerable percentage for the service of handling the fees.
A portion of the luggage belts that frequently break down are slated for replacement over the next year. Because the manufacturer of the old belts no longer exists, spare parts have been manufactured to order, which is very expensive and prone to subsequent failure, according to Brin. The new belts are being purchased from Siemens AG, a very large, established multinational company, likely to be around for the foreseeable future.
Other issues addressed at the hearing included problems with regular maintenance on machinery, discrepancies between the fees charged to marine terminal users on St. Croix versus St. Thomas and the issue of parking at Rohlsen Airport. Sen. President Usie Richards said it was a personal peeve of his to see Port Authority, Transportation Safety Administration and rental cars parked right near the terminal while passengers have to park farther away. “(At) other airports I see signs for a shuttle bus to take employees from their cars to the terminal," he said. "If they are going to be parked all day, it seems a waste."
Port Authority Board Chairman Robert O’Connor Jr. said the board had just discussed that issue the previous day and were looking at several options to make parking more convenient for passengers.
Committee Chairman James Weber III concluded the hearing on a positive note.
“I don’t think we have any problems that cannot be fixed,” he said. “If we adhere to our promises and plans, we can certainly improve.”
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May 18, 2007 -- The V.I. Port Authority has already lost more than $12 million in federal funds because of EPA violations at Anguilla Landfill and is short on cash because millions in fees collected by U.S. Customs get remitted back to the Port Authority on a very sporadic basis, according to information presented at a hearing Thursday.
The issues came out in a hearing of the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture in Frederiksted. Testimony came from tenants of the Port Authority at St. Thomas' Cyril E. King and St. Croix's Henry E. Rohlsen airports, and at the Port Authority’s various marine facilities. They expressed concerns about the state of the airports’ air conditioning, baggage belts and other issues.
Port Authority officials testified lated, addressing the tenants' concerns and answering questions from senators. Some of the maintenance issues were blamed on tight cash flow because of the financial issues and because of declining passenger flights to the territory.
“The airports are the first and last impression for our islands,” said Joanne Bohr of Worldwide Flight Services. “In St. Croix, our first impression is waiting outside for someone to open the door. Next, their bags often are delayed getting to them due to the bag-belt system, which is unreliable and can often require waits in excess of 45 minutes. On St. Thomas, it is often more than an hour.”
Victor Somme of V.I. Ground Handlers concurred, adding another concern.
“At present our greatest challenge is the lift chair,” Somme said. “Often people have to be carried up into the plane .... Also, the air conditioning -- we fix it and it breaks down again. It is bad for morale. The other thing is the broken baggage belt .... Major carriers are starting to show concern because of the delays it creates, which -- with missed flights and luggage following late -- costs thousands and thousands of dollars.”
Pressed about the situation, Port Authority Executive Director Darlan Brin said he believed they were collecting enough in fees, but other factors were creating a cash crunch.
“Traffic is down 9.5 percent at (Henry E.) Rohlsen and 6.9 percent at (Cyril E.) King airport,” Brin said. “We depend on those funds for our operation, because we cannot use federal funds for day-to-day operations.”
The Port Authority receives several million in federal funds earmarked for runway maintenance and other things, but the authority is ineligible to receive discretionary funds because both the EPA and the FAA have mandated the closure of the nearby Anguilla landfill on St. Croix, Brin explained. The FAA’s concern is the flight hazard created by birds at the dump, while the EPA is concerned with its environmental impact. So far, Brin said, the Port Authority has lost more than $12 million in federal funds over the issue, although the authority has no power to do anything about the dump.
Sen. Louis Hill urged Governor John deJongh Jr. to push for a fast resolution to the situation with Anguilla.
“This situation has applied for a couple of years now, and should have been dealt with by the last administration,” Hill said. “I hope the governor takes note and puts this on the front burner.”
Getting rates and fees that are collected by Customs at the Port Authority’s marine facilities has been slow. No funds have been lost this way, but the delays create a cash-flow problem, officials said.
“(U.S.) Customs collects the money and turns it over to (the Department of) Finance, who turn it over to us,” Brin said. “Sometimes it takes almost a year before they give us our money. Right now they owe us about $3 million, the largest amount ever.”
To put these numbers in perspective; the Port Authority collects and spends just under $23 million a year currently, according to figures supplied to the Legislature. Brin said he would prefer to ask the appropriate federal authorities to let the territory cut U.S. Customs out of the loop and collect the money directly. This would save on fees taken by Customs for the service of collecting the money, he said. Every other U.S. marine port facility collects its own fees, he said. In addition, he noted, Customs charges a considerable percentage for the service of handling the fees.
A portion of the luggage belts that frequently break down are slated for replacement over the next year. Because the manufacturer of the old belts no longer exists, spare parts have been manufactured to order, which is very expensive and prone to subsequent failure, according to Brin. The new belts are being purchased from Siemens AG, a very large, established multinational company, likely to be around for the foreseeable future.
Other issues addressed at the hearing included problems with regular maintenance on machinery, discrepancies between the fees charged to marine terminal users on St. Croix versus St. Thomas and the issue of parking at Rohlsen Airport. Sen. President Usie Richards said it was a personal peeve of his to see Port Authority, Transportation Safety Administration and rental cars parked right near the terminal while passengers have to park farther away. “(At) other airports I see signs for a shuttle bus to take employees from their cars to the terminal," he said. "If they are going to be parked all day, it seems a waste."
Port Authority Board Chairman Robert O’Connor Jr. said the board had just discussed that issue the previous day and were looking at several options to make parking more convenient for passengers.
Committee Chairman James Weber III concluded the hearing on a positive note.
“I don’t think we have any problems that cannot be fixed,” he said. “If we adhere to our promises and plans, we can certainly improve.”
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.