Fees for anchoring and mooring vessels in USVI waters, unchanged since 1992, will be raised if legislation sent on Thursday for a final vote becomes law.
Under current law, a vessel can moor in the territory for 14 days without paying. After 14 days, fees are $5 per foot, annually, for mooring and $2 per foot for an anchorage. The measure proposed by Sen. Novelle Francis comes out of public hearings held in 2012. A similar measure was voted down in 2015.
The bill devotes half the fees to the Natural Resources Reclamation Fund and the other half to DPNR’s marine enforcement unit.
“Stagnant fees have placed a burden on the department, which has a greater demand on its enforcement unit than ever before," Francis said, introducing the measure to the Rules and Judiciary Committee on Thursday. He said fees have not changed since 1992.
"Of course there are those critics who believe an increase in fees would be harmful to the territory’s marine industry. I believe the opposite. I believe a lack of enforcement is harmful to the marine industry," Francis said.
The territory collected $145,000 in mooring and anchoring fees in 2014 and $124,000 in 2015. Francis said some of the variation had to do with enforcement practices rather than amount of marine traffic.
The new fee schedule would charge $10 per foot per year for mooring pleasure craft; $15 per foot for live-aboard houseboats; and $20 per foot for commercial craft. For comparison, Francis said Tortola, BVI, charged $400 annually for pleasure craft and $500 annually for commercial craft. He did not mention any variations based on vessel size.
An amendment from Francis changed anchoring fees to $2 per foot per month for pleasure craft and $3 per foot per month for commercial craft and clarified the anchoring fees were monthly while mooring fees were annual. The amendment also created a fee of $1,100 for permitted marine events, such as boat races, and a fee of $500 for requests for DPNR enforcement assistance.
Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly said her office was "inundated" with emails in opposition after the bill was first heard in committee. (See Related Links below) She said she shared them with Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dawn Henry who "was extremely thorough in her responses."
Rivera-O’Reilly and other senators said there was a broad mix of boaters in the territory, some with limited means and some who were casual seasonal yachters. But she and others, including Sen. Justin Harrigan, said the fees had not changed in years and that a small increase was in order.
The committee also sent on a bill, sponsored by Rivera-O’Reilly to require health care providers who are employed by the V.I. government and who are engaged in private practice and receive financial assistance toward the payment of medical malpractice insurance premiums to accept Medicare and Medicaid.
Senators amended it to reduce the fine for noncompliance from $10,000 to $1,000.
The committee also sent on two bills from Sen. Kurt Vialet. One would expand the circumstances under which medical practitioners can get temporary licensure in the territory. Senators amended it to require that such licenses only be given out if the services are not available through hospitals or other federally certified institutions; to require the request be accompanied by a letter justifying the need; and requiring physicians so licensed to accept Medicare and Medicaid.
The other bill would require the various medical licensing boards, from dentistry to naturopathy, to perform criminal background checks on license applicants. Senators amended it to expand the types of companies that can perform background checks. They also added an unrelated amendment, from Rivera-O’Reilly, to appropriate $90,000 from the Interest Revenue Fund, to pay Continuum Care for "uncompensated home health care."
Voting to send each measure on for a final vote were Rivera-O’Reilly, Vialet, Francis, Harrigan and Sen. Kenneth Gittens. Sens. Neville James and Janette Millin Young were absent.