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VIPA Board Addresses Tibbar Request, Overdue Tenant Accounts

In a fully attended meeting Wednesday, the V.I. Port Authority’s governing board addressed matters left over from its July 25 meeting, including a tabled request by Tibbar Energy and continuing concerns of overdue tenant accounts.

At the July 25 meeting, the Port Authority board tabled Tibbar’s request for 400 acres of land west of the Randall “Doc” James racetrack for the growing of giant king grass, which is used as the main fuel for Tibbar’s biomass generator. Board member Gordon Finch expressed concerns about the dense and matted nature of the roots of giant king grass and how it might render the first foot of soil difficult to build upon.

In a letter from VIPA Executive Director Carlton Dowe to Tibbar Energy dated July 30, the authority requested that Tibbar present findings on the impact of king grass on subsoil, which Tibbar made available for the Property Committee meeting in mid-August.

In Wednesday’s meeting, chaired by Robert O’Connor Jr., the board evaluated findings by Jaca and Sierra Testing Laboratories, a Tibbar consultant, which indicated that the impact of king grass “would be similar to a site overgrown with low-lying vegetation and shrubs.”

After passing references to the property’s potential archaeological and historical significance, the VIPA board passed a measure authorizing Port Authority staff to continue negotiations with Tibbar.

Voting in favor were O’Connor, EDA Chairman Albert Bryan Jr., Manuel Gutierrez Jr., Beverly Nicholson-Doty, Allison Petrus and Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls. Voting against were Finch and Attorney General Vincent Frazier. Yvonne Thraen abstained.

Other measures resulting from the discussion included conducting further survey of the property and the development of agency policy that would require current survey of properties being considered for lease.

Long-standing accounts were also a major topic. Reported VIPA accounts receivables totaled more than $5.4 million as of June 2013. This is radically reduced to $1.5 million after taking out of the equation accounts that are less than 90 days overdue.

Moreover, after factoring in $908,000 owed by American Airlines and American Eagle, which cannot be immediately collected due to the airline companies’ bankruptcy status, the adjusted remaining accounts due fall to $638,000.

During the discussion, O’Connor raised the topic of a computer software, supposedly purchased years earlier, that would alert Port Authority staff to discrepancies in tenant accounts. Property management staff responded that the software they currently have generate reports but lack the capacity to trigger alarms on delinquent accounts.

“I really would like to know what that system was that was discussed at some point,” said VIPA Chief Financial Officer Valdamier Collens. “What it takes is human beings who follow through, but if we get that system, they can focus more on programmatic areas.”

Dowe agreed that in spite of such a software, staff follow-through is still paramount.

“It’s not that we didn’t know 10 months ago that XYZ were delinquent,” he said. “It’s what enforcement action we undertook.”

Dowe did acknowledge that the authority’s “more aggressive stance” on collection resulted in some progress.

“Now we have more people coming in saying, let’s start, and that’s only because of the aggressive posture that we have undertaken,” he said. “It’s going to take some time, but we expect to start to really zero in on some of these long-standing issues.”

Contract Overages

One agenda item requiring action was the authorization of a $44,000 overage in contract cost with contractor Seslia and Company. In July 2012, when VIPA entered a contract with Seslia, the annual billing was capped at $300,000, with any excess requiring approval from the board.

In Wednesday’s meeting, Collens recommended applying the overage to the following year’s contract. Thraen, although later voting in favor, expressed some concern about paying more than the amount agreed upon in the contract. During the voting, while all other board members voted in favor, Nicholson-Doty, Petrus, Smalls and Bryan abstained, indicating the need for clarification.

In a later discussion, Collens explained that while the Port Authority agrees to pay the overage this year, the overage amount will be deducted from the following year’s contract amount with the same contractor.

Finance Highlights

Collens reported highlights of the V.I. Port Authority finances for the last nine months, including an $8.1 million operating loss, which is $1.1 million less than the current budget, but nonetheless higher than last year’s loss figures by $1.8 million.

Collens also reported a net cash flow of $9.2 million from operating activities – a 16 percent drop from last month’s figures – which was immediately directed toward investments in facilities, equipment and financing related to Port Authority’s outstanding marine bonds.

Collens asserts that the authority continues to be well capitalized, partly due to non-operating income and federal money balancing out the losses.

In other business, the board voted to:
– grant a 36-month payment plan to Jorge Rodriguez Brown’s B. L. Bolivars Mechanic Shop to settle past due rent and finance charges;
– grant a 24-month payment plan to Cecil Rouse’s Junie’s Auto Body Repairs to settle past due rent and finance charges;
– approved a request by American Paradise Global Management Group for a 10-year lease of space allocated for the building of a new dialysis treatment facility at the Austin “Babe” Monsanto Marine Terminal;
– approved a lease request by L’Orielle Benjamin for kiosk space at the Austin “Babe” Monsanto Marine Terminal;
– authorized the Port Authority executive director to execute a contract with Virgin Islands Paving Inc. for the expansion of the public parking lot at the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport;
– and authorized the Port Authority executive director to negotiate with the Legislature an increase in the authority’s capacity to produce power through renewable energy options.

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