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Friday, July 1, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesStimulus Money to Buy Two New Ferry Boats

Stimulus Money to Buy Two New Ferry Boats

As part of a $60 million Federal Highway Administration Stimulus Fund grant to 19 states and one territory, the Virgin Islands will receive $3 million to buy ferry boats for the St. Thomas to St. John route.
"The government will hold ownership but they will be leased one each to the ferry boat operators," Federal Highway Administration spokesman Nancy Singer said from Washington, D.C. Thursday.
There was jubilation at both Transportation Services and Varlack Ventures, the two companies that ply the waters between St. Thomas and St. John.
"It will start to solve some of our problems," Transportation Services manager Kenrick Augustus said.
While Augustus had heard the news via email from a marine organization, Varlack Ventures manager Delrise Varlack got the information from a reporter.
"That will work for me 101 percent," she said.
Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls alluded to the fact that the money was coming at Tuesday’s Transportation Master Plan meeting on St. John, but said Thursday he just received confirmation.
He said the $3 million in Stimulus Funds combined with the $1.5 million received previously from Federal Highway and the $643,549 on hand from Federal Highway’s ferry boat discretionary fund gives Public Works $5.1 million to buy the boats. He and Augustus both said the $5.1 was sufficient.
The boats will be operated under the same name as VITRAN, the name Public Works uses for its bus operation.
"They’ll fly the VITRAN flag," Smalls said.
While the companies will be able to replace or take out of service for refurbishment boats from their current fleet, the new boats won’t solve the companies’ continual operating issues because the money can’t be used to fund operations.
"There’s still the issue of the high cost of fuel and oil," Varlack said.
The only way to solve the operational issues is to raise ferry fares so the companies get a fair rate of return, Augustus said. This issue has been on St. John’s front burner for some months as the Public Services Commission undertakes a review of the ferry rates. However, Augustus said that even if the rates go up, the government can elect to subsidize fares to keep the cost reasonable for passengers.
Although the funding is available now, Varlack said it will take at least three years before the boats are on hand because they have to be built.
There are myriad issues to be worked out. Augustus said he expects Federal Highway would want the two companies to operate the same boats. However, that will complicate matters because Transportation Services and Varlack Ventures boats use different engines. This means that their inventories of spare parts are not the same.
"And we’ll need to have additional training in the maintenance of the new vessels," Varlack said.
Transportation Services is planning to send the 282-passenger Caribe Cay in for an overhaul once the new boat is received. Augustus said it’s been in service since 1995. However, Augustus said that he’d like a smaller boat that holds 150 to 200 passengers rather than a larger boat because ferry traffic has diminished with the downturn in the economy.
Varlack said she’d take the Capitol Venture out of service.

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As part of a $60 million Federal Highway Administration Stimulus Fund grant to 19 states and one territory, the Virgin Islands will receive $3 million to buy ferry boats for the St. Thomas to St. John route.
"The government will hold ownership but they will be leased one each to the ferry boat operators," Federal Highway Administration spokesman Nancy Singer said from Washington, D.C. Thursday.
There was jubilation at both Transportation Services and Varlack Ventures, the two companies that ply the waters between St. Thomas and St. John.
"It will start to solve some of our problems," Transportation Services manager Kenrick Augustus said.
While Augustus had heard the news via email from a marine organization, Varlack Ventures manager Delrise Varlack got the information from a reporter.
"That will work for me 101 percent," she said.
Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls alluded to the fact that the money was coming at Tuesday's Transportation Master Plan meeting on St. John, but said Thursday he just received confirmation.
He said the $3 million in Stimulus Funds combined with the $1.5 million received previously from Federal Highway and the $643,549 on hand from Federal Highway's ferry boat discretionary fund gives Public Works $5.1 million to buy the boats. He and Augustus both said the $5.1 was sufficient.
The boats will be operated under the same name as VITRAN, the name Public Works uses for its bus operation.
"They'll fly the VITRAN flag," Smalls said.
While the companies will be able to replace or take out of service for refurbishment boats from their current fleet, the new boats won't solve the companies' continual operating issues because the money can't be used to fund operations.
"There's still the issue of the high cost of fuel and oil," Varlack said.
The only way to solve the operational issues is to raise ferry fares so the companies get a fair rate of return, Augustus said. This issue has been on St. John's front burner for some months as the Public Services Commission undertakes a review of the ferry rates. However, Augustus said that even if the rates go up, the government can elect to subsidize fares to keep the cost reasonable for passengers.
Although the funding is available now, Varlack said it will take at least three years before the boats are on hand because they have to be built.
There are myriad issues to be worked out. Augustus said he expects Federal Highway would want the two companies to operate the same boats. However, that will complicate matters because Transportation Services and Varlack Ventures boats use different engines. This means that their inventories of spare parts are not the same.
"And we'll need to have additional training in the maintenance of the new vessels," Varlack said.
Transportation Services is planning to send the 282-passenger Caribe Cay in for an overhaul once the new boat is received. Augustus said it's been in service since 1995. However, Augustus said that he'd like a smaller boat that holds 150 to 200 passengers rather than a larger boat because ferry traffic has diminished with the downturn in the economy.
Varlack said she'd take the Capitol Venture out of service.