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Wednesday, June 12, 2024
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Port Authority Raises Passenger Fees for Ferries

After a Mar. 7 public hearing on St. Thomas to announce rate increases, the Virgin Islands Port Authority Board approved higher fees for ferry passengers and other items during a board meeting at the Henry Rohlsen Airport conference room Wednesday.

Ferry companies have been paying passenger tariffs that have not been raised in 20 years, according to Carlton Dowe, VIPA executive director, and effective April 1 the “ships dues” rate will increase for ferry passengers anchoring in the harbor from $.85 to $2 each and for those using the wharf – inbound and outbound – the fee will be $3, up from $1.85.

Ferries will be charged only for passengers traveling to and from the British Virgin Islands. Ferry travel between St. Thomas and St. John, and eventually St. Croix, will be exempt, as in the past.

“It only applies to ferries now, but we will be discussing applying it to other vessels come January,” said Nicole Thompson, VIPA legal counsel.

Dowe said approximately 200,000 passengers use ferry service to Tortola annually and they anticipate raising an additional $1 million a year to cover $12 million in capital improvements over the next few years.

The capital expenses include a new U.S. Customs and Border Patrol facility at the Urman V. Fredericks Marine Facility at Red Hook. A second parking level will be added and the dock will be refurbished.

Repairs also are needed at the marine facility on the Charlotte Amalie waterfront and at the Edward W. Blyden Marine Terminal, Dowe said.

The board approved the fee increase and several other expense items before the meeting was moved into executive session.

Board members debated but eventually approved the extension of a lease at the Cyril King terminal although the lease doesn’t expire until 2018. Attorney General Vincent Frazer moved to extend the lease to 2023 of a 28-year tenant. Allison Petrus argued the lengthy extension eliminates the possibility of competition since the vendor has an exclusive lease until 2018.

“When you give exclusivity, you get the worst product,” Petrus said.

Board member Manual Gutierrez Jr. said the tenant has had “plenty of time to recoup his investment” and shorter leases would produce a variety of vendors.

“But to extend another five years for a 28-year tenant, I don’t understand the benefit to the Port Authority,” he said.

In addition to the lease extension, there were expenditures approved for Henry Rohlsen Airport that included $625,540 for design and bid management of the apron/parking area construction that will evolve into a $4 million project, according to Dale Gregory, VIPA chief engineer.

Gutierrez said the consulting fee seemed high relative to the overall project.

Also slated for the St. Croix airport are projects including $98,776 for air field security improvements; $47,256 added on to a $4 million project to repair the terminal roof; $32,475 to renovate the TSA building and parking lot; and $53,058 for expansion of the public parking area.

The board discussed and approved $159,836 to design and manage construction of a new light system at the Wilfred Bomba Allick Container Port on St. Croix. Owners and drivers complained the containers are being stacked so that the current system doesn’t provide enough light, according to Gregory.

Again Gutierrez commented that the design fees seemed out of proportion with an estimated cost of between $600,000 and $700,000 or more for the final renovation.

At the St. Thomas airport, expenses approved by the board included $347,000 to secure the baggage claim area and $43,655 for new lights on the taxiway.

Port Authority staff updated the board on the progress of several projects including dredging at the Crown Bay Marina and the channel. Gregory and Dowe said the project will be completed in September, the deadline to accommodate cruise ships.

Dowe said they are waiting for the Army Corps of Engineers approval and that the VIPA has “done everything humanly possible.”

Approval has been granted by V.I. Coastal Zone Management and the Army Corps is reviewing the new channel proposal to dredge 13,000 square yards instead of the original request to dredge 200,000 square yards. Dowe said the request was reduced after one cruise company agreed with the others that the lesser amount was adequate.

That project should take three months, according to Gregory.

Board members attending the meeting were Petrus, Frazer, Gutierrez, Chairman Robert O’Connor Jr., Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty, Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls and Labor Commissioner Albert Bryan Jr. Yvonne Thraen was absent.

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