For the last two days, divers have been working around the clock to remove a set of 60 undersea dock piles that V.I. Port Authority officials said are holding up the completion of the Crown Bay dredging project on St. Thomas.
VIPA Executive Director Carlton Dowe made it clear to board members during a meeting Wednesday that no one knew the piles were there before the dredging began of the East Gregorie Channel and a section of the area along the northern portion of the pier at the Austin “Babe” Monsanto Marine Terminal.
Officials said that’s because the piles were part of an old Crown Bay pier and had been cut, instead of removed, to make way for the new one.
The remaining pieces became buried as sand, runoff and other debris pushed around the ocean floor but were recently discovered during the dredging excavations, according to VIPA chief engineer Dale Gregory.
The dredging will allow for the widening of the pier to a depth of 10 meters alongside, which would allow more than one large cruise ship to berth.
“When the Crown Bay dock was built in 1986-1987, there was no need for the draft of the vessels we have now,” Gregory added. “But in excavating to achieve the 10-meter depth we need, we have exposed some 60 piles – remnants of a pier that was previously at the facility – and without those piles being removed, we won’t have what we need. We’re moving now with the cutoff of those piles below the 10-meter depth.”
The challenge is that the piles are made of different materials, such as wood and steel, and are surrounded by everything from boats to tires, making them harder to pull out, Gregory said. In the past two days, nine piles have been removed and Gregory said it could take another 18 to 20 days to finish.
“That’s my best guess,” he said. “Everybody up there is pushing and trying to get this completed as soon as possible.”
After the piles are removed, more work will be done to remove the debris on the floor around them and then a surveyor will be called in to make sure the dredging hit the specified 10-meter depth. A new map of the area will then be filed with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Gregory said.
“Then the area is recharted and that’s the trigger for the various cruise lines to come in,” he said.
While nothing was voted on Wednesday, Gregory told board members that the additional work will come at an additional cost, but didn’t specify yet how much.
At a previous meeting in August, VIPA board members had approved an extra $540,000 for the project, bringing the total to approximately $3 million, which will be paid out of bond proceeds.